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"Bohemia", a story by Roman Payne

"Bohemia" by Roman Payne

 
Bohemia
By Roman Payne
"Bohemia" llustration by Roman Payne - copyright 2005
(Illustration: Ink and Watercolor, by Roman Payne, Copyright 2005)

T he trees were riddled with birds. The ground was littered with seeds. And the handsome son skipped between the trees, across the courtyard, basking in the vernal light of springtime Paris.
.....The moment the sun fell below the rooftops of the houses lining the Place des Vosges a call was heard. The old and virile father of the handsome son called out to him through the trees. The time had come.
The young man entered the office of his father where the latter was seated behind a mahogany desk. A large, tobacco coloured map of the world hung of the leftern wall. Near the rightern stood a brass cage. Within it squawked a parrot, perched on a stone.
The tippety-tap of the cane on his lap was silenced by the father who sat serious and still, reading over some papers.
Bored, the young man looked out the window across Place des Vosges at the last red light of the late-summer sun billowing up o’er the building tops.
.....And then a moment.
.....“Son, listen close. Hear y’up. Stop drowsing.”
.....The father laid his trading papers out on the desk beneath the eyes of his son. They were the papers he kept in the iron safe. The papers his son had never seen. They were old, decorated and the only of their kind. They had taken him all over the world, to the coves of the Sierras, to the ruby markets of the east … to Barcelona and to Constantinople.
.....His father’s papers were undeniably the most decorated in Europe – perhaps in the world. He was the only jewel trader in Paris, for instance, allowed to the buy and sell the glorious rubies of Burma. And it is this example which brought him to fortune and widespread respect.
.....He was known in the great mansions of the Parisian aristocrats, for the jewels that glimmered on their spoons had coursed through his hands. He supplied gems for all the hotels on the Place de la Concorde, as well as for every gilded bank office on the Grands Boulevards. And his son walked assured and proud through his youth, for he knew that this was to be his throne, and a glorious one it was.
.....“My son, I have considered your wishes to holiday in Spain this year,” his father spoke calmly, “I will, however, not be making a voyage this August and I expect that the procession will be taken up by you in my place.”
.....The young man did not speak, for he knew he would choke on the nervousness in his throat. He looked over the papers quickly with his father. He thought of bargaining until his father agreed to let him travel to Greece, or at least to North Africa. But he knew that it was necessary to go to Bohemia and he thought twice about showing fear or stupidity before the immense man that was his father. This would be the young man’s first solo journey, following his father’s trade, and he hesitated to accept what wasn’t his choice not to accept. He wanted truly to gather the papers and leave the office for this was an uncomfortable, though important, occasion. Soon enough, however, he was asked to leave so his father could attend to other matters. With a handshake, the young man said goodbye, joking to his father that he would return with all of the emeralds in the Urals – even if it took four years. His father did not smile; instead he gave his strong look, which said that no deviation from the plan would be tolerated.

The young man’s father was extremely serious. He always followed the codes of morals and laws of the particular region or country he was in. This is not to say that he wasn’t brave. He always took the most dangerous option – considering it was to his benefit. But when confronted about his actions, he replied in undaunted honesty. He took the consequences for his strange behaviour. But instead of his unorthodox actions causing him grief and social unrest, they created a path for him in which others seemed to follow. His father would often do something absurd; and when others looked at him as if he had committed a wrong, he would look back with these eyes and this heavy brow that said, ‘This is the new way! Do you object to progress?’ …and people would back away and be silent.
.....It is for this that his father gained the highest success as a jewel trader. It is for this that his trading papers were the most decorated in Europe. For the laws governing the commerce of gemstones is strict – even with the most privileged papers. For instance, no trader was allowed to remain in a foreign market for more than two to four days (depending on the country). The papers also governed the amount of gemstones which could be imported, the sum of money that could be spent on one voyage, as well as the kinds of stones which could be purchased. Burma was one of the strictest markets. In fact, its borders were closed to all foreign traders until just a decade before the young man’s father entered the business. The first traders allowed in to Burma were only permitted to return to Europe with one kilogram of uncut rubies. They were also only allowed to remain in the Burmese markets for two days. These regulations made it impossible for the traders to make a profit. They could easily purchase rubies in Paris for less than it cost to retrieve them from Burma. Because of this they began to smuggle other jewels through the border as well as falsify the dates stamped on their papers. Finally the early traders’ papers were revoked. The young man’s father was an exception. He never remained in a country longer than was permitted. He also resisted the common practices such as hiding opals beneath amber. Years ago, border officials would check his parcels. This occurs with every trader, for the border official who finds expired papers keeps them. Every eastern border guard’s dream is to retain illicit gemstones, for they may be worth more than his whole life’s salary. Most border guards would even prefer to seize the trader’s papers rather than a simple lot of jewels. For the papers would ensure him a more lively and affluent career than his current position. There were no authorities to see to it that the papers and jewels were accounted for upon seizure. Border officials were switchy-eyed and outlandish men – just one step above common bandits. They would rob every passer-by of his freedom and possessions if the border crosser didn’t have his armed entourage.
.....Every trader passing a border, whether it was between Poland and Austria, or France and Spain, was dependent on his entourage. If the trader remained in a country too long, and tried to pass with expired papers; the border guards would certainly catch him. The trader would then look around for his entourage, only to see them disappearing over the foreign horizon. Why would they remain faithful by his side only to be arrested? There have been many traders who attempted to pay off their entourage in jewels for the capture of the guards – and every time the result is the same: The trader arrives at the border only to be turned on and ransacked by all – for an entourage is made up of political men, and political men are known to follow the rules even when they surpass all morals. They will take part in a massacre as long as their country is behind them.
.....So you see the tediousness of the trader’s position – and what skill and knowledge of human behaviour it requires. It is because of the young man’s father’s firm conviction in his speech and action, coupled with his fearless honesty, that he reached such fortune in the business. After just a few years in the trade, border guards ceased searching him at the frontier. It is common knowledge that his father could have walked freely with an illegal quantity or type of jewels. It what common knowledge then that the border officials must let him pass without an uproar – for the father’s entourage was as faithful as a family and they would stand beside him. There is no overstating the effect he had on other men. Still, this young man’s father remained honest and complied with the morals and laws of the particular region he was in at a given time.
.....His son, however, with his foppish dandy dress and wandering eyes, glittering as asterious as the diamonds on his belt, was an opportunist; and all the while - skipping past the courtyard, stabbing pommes and poires with his cane, kicking open the gate and summoning the carriage – he thought of how he would travel to Bohemia and return with an obscene amount of the finest emeralds and garnets available. He mused on bringing back the head of the border official studded with sapphires.
.....While in the carriage, however, he looked again at the trading papers his father entrusted to him. They felt as old as sandstone. They held stamps from twenty-eight countries. They were the most valuable trading papers in Europe. He knew he must safeguard them. For if he passed the border even one day late, the guards would most certainly seize them. This would mean the end of his father’s, and his, career. His father would never again honour him with even the most disdainful glance.
.....Riding through the plains of northern France, the son realized the importance of this day. He bowed his head to reflect solemnly on how, on this August morning, his father allowed him the life of a man for the first time.

The carriage, driven by Timothy, his father’s long-time driver, continued through the plains of Germany – through Frankfurt and Weimar – past thatches of roofs and dots of cattle on moist northern soil. The son felt happy knowing that the old driver would accompany him on his first solo journey; but it was in Gera, Germany – singular town – that the handsome son was surprised to find old Timothy bidding farewell. It was here that the son was to find his own way. He was led to a square where, as he was told, a new caravan would be arriving to take him the rest of the way.

Outside, fresh and hot, the young man skipped around the German square, so uniformly cobbled, waiting to greet the caravan with virile delight. Soon the afternoon burned off and evening faded to night and the young man decided to wander till he found a room to sleep.
.....Down the stairs from an old wooden bakery, an old peasant woman was sweeping up flour and feathers. She led the young man after his inquiries to a hotel on the square where he was given a room and a chest for his clothing. The handsome son paid the clerk, locked his room, put his things in the chest and pulled it onto his mattress where he could lay his legs over it whilst he slept – should anyone try to rob him in the night – and he soon fell asleep.
.....The bed was soft and the young man slept well. Morning-time. He was offended that there was no coffee served. Around the gates of the inn, the young man paced the square, hands folded behind his back. He then spat and found the maid, whom he ordered to fetch him coffee. The young man’s German was good enough to scold. A blushy-faced and shamed maid turned and went off kicking rocks to find some beans to grind for coffee. As the young man waited, he sat on the steps of the square in the warm morning sun – scratching his sore eyes and smoking a pipe. Before the maid returned, two wagons pulled up and summoned the son. Hurriedly, he jumped up, threw a mocking glance at the inn, glanced an insulting scowl at the town, and jumped in the rickshaw – the fifth of six – all his entourage – and they left the square and the town.
.....Through the wide hills of Germany they rode and the young man thought there would be no end to the repeating countryside, until finally the caravan stopped beside a stone gate. The figures climbed out of their respective compartments and led the young man to the officer at the gate. The young man was not confused, nor was he afraid. He had accompanied his father on over a dozen voyages. Twice they had taken the same route from Paris to Bohemia.
.....The officer expected what was soon provided: trading papers. But, wisely, behaving like an experienced trader, he did not hand the papers over until making sure with a glance that the new caravan was on the other side of the border with their carriages and rickshaws turned in a semicircle around the border guard’s post.
.....The officer handed them back in the usual way and the young man returned to the wagons, rickshaws and carts of the Bohemian caravan.
The most beautiful rickshaw was to be his – the last one in the line: number five – the sixth waiting behind in a camp at the German border. When he tried to open the door of the oak, two-man rickshaw, interrogations began by the parties smoking pipes atop the wagon in front in this new and unknown entourage.
.....“Wasn’t it to be a man?” a hoarse Slovak voice jested as the handsome son presented his papers.
.....“Oh, It is a pleasure, sir.” The driver of the third coach said taking the papers and realizing that the young man was indeed the awaited jewel trader.
.....The young man returned to the rear and opened the rickshaw door. There was another sitting on the deep red cushions.
“Salut! Leve-toi!” the young man said loudly, realizing that the man in his rickshaw was asleep. He jolted the unanimated body with the tip of his cane and the figure awoke, confused, spilling his tumbler of brandy upon the cushions.”
.....“It’s okay, you don’t have to change cars – I’m alone.” The young man bellowed.
.....The sleepy figure came to his senses and shifted positions to allow him to enter. Stuffy-eyed and sleepy, he finally awoke… “Ah! I remember you.”
.....“Have you got anything to drink?” the young man asked.
.....“Some brandy.” The large figure began to pour from the bottle into a new glass. The young man was not interested in the tiny tumbler he was handed. He tossed it back in the other man’s lap and reached into the compartment for the bottle. Our young man then pulled the cork and drank the remainders.
.....“Where’s your father this trip?” The man, who introduced himself as Ivan, inquired.
.....“In Greece.” The other, who introduced himself as Salvador, replied.
.....“Without his papers?” reinquired Ivan inquisitively.
.....“He’s there on pleasure… where are your papers, old boy?”
.....“What do you mean….”
.....The young man interrupted Ivan mid-sentence, “Draw the curtain it’s dark and I don’t know you – might have to draw my knife.”
.....The young man played with Ivan – threatened him a bit, until he took the curtains apart. The incoming sun revealed the figure of Ivan to be large and stocky, carrying a hard-boned, Slovak face. He was not much older than the young man – maybe five years.
.....The young man remembered Ivan from his last journey to Bohemia. It was around the young man’s sixteenth year. He remembered Ivan to be polite and helpful, honest – a bit over-instructive. It was because he had been instructive that the young man decided to condescend him – for it was his voyage now and he was to lead the party.
.....“I am happy to have you stay with us during your stay in Prague,” Ivan stated, “however, I wish that your father had come for he was always the most wonderful of guests…
.....“…Tell me,” Ivan continued, “Do you still live near the Tuileries?”
.....“I haven’t live in Paris for years… I live in Spain, in Andalusia,” the young man lied, “And I haven’t seen my father for years either. He has been in Greece with his mistress since I was sixteen.”
.....“Hmm,” Ivan considered “However did you end up in his line of work?”
.....“Actually, I’m a matador,” our young man boasted proudly with a slap to his chest, “I am taking this run for the pure thrill – it has nothing to do with my father.”
.....“But certainly your father arranged this expedition… and entrusted you with his papers.”
.....“Not at all. I have my own papers. They in fact supersede my father’s in privilege.”
.....“At your age! That’s amazing,” laughed Ivan mockingly.
.....“That brandy was quite stale, don’t you have anything else?”
.....“Some absinthe,” said Ivan, handing over a new bottle. He didn’t appear fond of the young man, but as his host he was required to feign affection, at least. The young man took this opportunity to openly slander Ivan and make demands as he pleased.
.....In the late afternoon, the coaches ceased and the door of the rickshaw carrying Ivan and our young jewel trader was opened. The party was led to the top of the road where the city of Prague could be seen in the distance. Golden light shone on the rooftops of Prague and the surrounding hills, which were usually a rich green, appeared bronze with fertile wheat.
.....The party drank wine aside the road together until the young man impatiently ordered everyone back to the coaches to continue on. The trail ahead was paved and smooth and the remainder of the journey took only an hour.
.....The coaches and wagons rounded the castle atop the largest hill in Prague and they entered a courtyard where olive trees lined cobbled sculptures and fountains. There was a feast planned to welcome the trader and when the party left their carriages, an even larger entourage flooded from the doors of Ivan’s mansion to greet them.
.....Wealthy and successful jewel traders always received this royal treatment when visiting a foreign country. A trader’s voyage was arranged so that his stay would be accommodated by an affluent host. The host fed and entertained the trader, took him into the jewel markets each day; and, as custom went, when the trader left the country, he would offer his host many beautiful jewels in return for the favour.
.....A large and beautifully faced woman led this new entourage and approached Ivan. She spoke in a robust German voice and claimed that the feast had finished preparation and the guests were waiting to begin.
“Good, I’m starving.” Agreed Ivan. “How do you feel my lad? Are you ready to eat?” he said, nudging the young man.
.....“There will be plenty of time to eat on this trip,” replied our young man, “First thing we do is go down to the markets.”
.....“I’m afraid you arrived a bit late. The markets are closed this evening and tomorrow is Sunday. We won’t be able to go until Monday morning.”
.....“I’m afraid that time won’t allow such idleness,” returned the young man, “I must leave on Tuesday. We must go to the markets tonight.”
.....“If you insist – you are the guest… we will ride down together after we eat.”
.....“Well, I’ll be going now,” The young man affirmed, climbing into the rickshaw, shouting orders to the driver, from the window, to commence.”
The little oak cart immediately left Ivan’s courtyard. Ivan was furious that his driver did not ask his permission before leaving. He turned to the old woman and ordered her to hold dinner and offer the guests more to drink. He then entreated his entourage to return to their coaches and follow him down to the center of Prague – to the markets.
.....The coaches rode unbalanced and swaying recklessly down the steep road to the lesser quarter of Prague. They hurried to catch up to the young man’s wagon.
.....Finally, his wagon could be seen stopping near the gates of the market and the following coaches caught up and halted. Ivan climbed out and greeted the young man. The markets were indeed closed for the evening and only the last of the vendors could be seen loading their carts with their beads and trinkets.
.....“Hmm, I guess they are indeed closed for the night,” the young man shouted aloud with a true look of surprise as he waved his cane before his supporting entourage… “Oh, well, I’m famished – let’s go eat!”
.....All cursed the young man silently, and the party reboarded their coaches and began heading back to the palace atop the hill.
.....From the Bohemian skyline, the entourage could be seen marking up the hill like a little brown trail of insects crossing a plain.
.....When the group rearrived, the courtyard was absent of festivity and greetings.
.....Quietly they marched inside, clicked off their boots and entered the anteroom where dancing and drinking was taking place.
.....The young man was introduced as Salvador to the crowd and everyone was excited to get their turn to make acquaintance with the handsome son.
.....Rather than mingling and showing an interest in the strange faces in the room, the young man insisted that dinner be served.
.....He was quite pleased with the meal. His garnet bracelet dipped in the thick sauces as he helped himself to more potatoes and beans. A pretty girl was seated beside him and she kept saying, “Salvador, please eat my bread, you need it more than I do.” She was flirting with him and her hand kept feeling the patterns of his clothes as she asked questions like, ‘where was this made?”
.....When she felt the pearls on his necklace, the gossamer thread broke and the pearls fell asunder to the floor. The young man grabbed for them and the pretty girl handed him some. Her face lit up with romantic delight when she handed him a blue pearl and he handed it back. She was expecting to keep it, however, he resnatched it out of her hand and, placing it on his tongue, swallowed it.
.....This was his usual behaviour with young ladies. He had the wealth to offer them lavish gifts but he felt, as he was clever, intelligent and unusually handsome, that he didn’t need to offer any gifts or other affections to win the company of a woman.
.....The pretty girl resumed eating her food. She was pouting a little bit after the young man’s exhibition of selfishness but every once and a while during the remainder of the meal, she would play with him to show that she was still interested.
.....After the meal, the guests returned to the anteroom to listen to the music and dance and drink. The young man remained at the table, smoking a pipe for a few moments, and then he joined them. This time, he was a bit lighter in spirits and he walked about the room talking to people who gathered near the walls.
.....After he was thoroughly bored with the talk of every guest standing near the walls, he sought out Ivan. Ivan was immersed in conversation with a lady, who, though he could only see her from behind, looked very alluring with finely cropped golden hair and a pleated rose dress.
.....He approached the couple but was not noticed. The lady had her back turned and Ivan did not take his eyes from her face. She was almost a tall as Ivan – who was already very tall – and when the young man stood behind her, he could barely glance over the top of her head.
.....He was now standing very close but Ivan would not look up to take notice of him. The young man – on a whim – took a pair of haemostat-like tools from his dinner-coat pocket and reached toward the clasp of the ladies pearl necklace with them. With a quick, expert twist, he noiselessly broke the clasp on the pearls and they fell asunder to the anteroom floor.
.....The couple turned around and Ivan bellowed out with a smile, “You seem to have a distaste for pearls this evening, Salvador.”
.....When Ivan noticed that his lady friend was dauntingly furious, he too grew angry and said, “I believe you have done this lady great harm. You had better spend some time repairing her necklace.”
.....The young man took no notice of these words. Instead he bent to the floor and retrieved one blue pearl from beside Ivan’s foot. He then kneeled beneath Ivan and, pressing the pearl into his hand, said, “This, my dear host, is the first token to repay your generous hospitality.”
.....Before Ivan could speak the young man stood, and bowed to the lady. He then looked at her face, which was unusually well formed and beautiful. She was pretty in not a cute way, but an undeniably beautiful way that caused the young man to grow shy and even reconsider his previous action. Meanwhile, Ivan was fuming with anger. He wanted to whip the young man, but before he could take any action, the latter disappeared through the crowd into an adjoining room.
.....Our young man found himself in a small and lavishly comfortable velvet room where he was alone – except for three people sitting remotely on red cushions, smiling, sipping wine and talking and a fiddle player, who played a slow Russian ballad in the minor key. Now, our young man, who considered himself ideal in both mind and body, did however have a great problem with his eyesight and he squinted hard to make out the faces of the three talkers on the other side of the room but he could not discern their faces and he felt alone and removed. For someone who strikes others as an egoist, our young man was notably dependant upon other people – if at least to have an audience. Though mere spectators he did not want. He was indeed interested in other people. Not so much in what they said, for often people would talk to him for a half-hour and he wouldn’t care to remember even a word of it. He was more interested in how they looked and the gestures they made. He would muse to himself about strangers – paying strict attention to what they wore, the forms of their faces, and the way their eyes flashed and their mouths formed smiles. He would invent stories about who they thought they were and what they did with their lives.
.....After the fiddle player stopped the ballad, a mandolin player and a man with a small drum climbed raucously into the room and the three started a new tune – this time a very loud piece. The young man was forced to make room for the new musicians and he stood and took a seat on the cushion adjoining the places of the three talkers – who were now, due to the loud music – facing forward and silent.
.....The young man then noticed the girl in the middle of the two men. She was apparently Jewish, with long black hair and dark eyes – a natural beauty with innocent charm and full feminine lips and cheeks. Her eyes were as wide and bright as two full moons and the young man grew very interested. This feeling bothered him because he almost never experienced it and he, suddenly, only cared about this strange girl – being close to her and never leaving her side.
.....The men sitting beside her looked identical to one another. They even wore the same outfit – tan and black striped trousers with deep red cloaks. Their noses were long, bony and wicked. Their eyes seemed to dart forward – so much that they gave the impression that they weren’t even fastened in their skulls. Their eyes seemed about to drop from out of their sockets.
.....The lovely girl’s face was pale and full. It contrasted beautifully against the black of her hair. She was also wearing a black petticoat, which covered the forms of her body. It was a bit warm in the room that night for a petticoat, yet it still looked appropriate and fitting on her body. The twin’s faces were also pale, yet in a horrid way that looked sickly against their cropped red hair. The three just sat, facing forward, silent, for many moments. Then the twins turned and began yapping into the girl’s ears, loud enough to cover the music of the band which was tapering off as the mandolin player and the fiddler took the song in different directions.
.....He was at this time sitting very close to the three and our young man usually introduced himself boldly to strangers in a room but this time he was shy and quiet. He laid his head down on the pillow beside him quietly and, drawing pictures on the fabric with his finger as a child does, closed his eyes and fell asleep.
.....Fancy now that our young jewel trader awoke to a caressing of his neck and shoulders. He did not wake suddenly, but slowly and comfortably as the warm hand moved up and down his spine. Lifting his head and, with one hand rubbing his eyes, he turned to the new stranger beside him. It was Ivan. He sat beside the young man, rousing him awake with warm affection. Our young man looked around. The lovely girl and the two horrid twins were still next to him on the cushion talking. A little farther away now. The band was still there playing, yet the song was quiet enough for talking over. Ivan began speaking first,
.....“My dear lad,” he patted the young man’s cheek, “do you realize that that beautiful young lady whose necklace you destroyed will probably never return here? Or at least not until you’ve left the grounds?”
.....“Does that cause you distress?” The young man spoke up.
.....“Not me as much as it will you. She would have been a very good person for you to know. She is French and very influential in the courts of Paris.”
.....“I get enough of the French in my own country… besides, what is she doing here? A fixture in a Bohemian palace?”
.....“Unlike in your country, our aristocracy puts more importance in beauty than in blood. That is why many of the plain ladies from good Bohemian families have moved on to Vienna or Berlin. We welcome all the lovely people from North-western Bohemia. Even the Slovakians are welcome here - as long as they are charming and witty. Some times we have more young ladies here than we do horses in the stable. See! It’s a wonderful place for a young man like you or me to bide our time.”
.....“Tomorrow, I’ll invite the lovely woman back for some sport in the garden. You can then make amends with her.”
.....“May I ask? Why exactly are you interested in a reconciliation – or for that matter, even an initial meeting, considering I’ve never spoken to this women.”
.....“I’ll be honest, Salvador…” Ivan spoke, removing the affection and taking a serious air, “At first I didn’t care for you too much. I, of course, was polite as any host should be; however, it was very difficult for me to bite my tongue while listening to you. While you were sleeping, however, I sat here – many moments – and I thought about things and I realized that you are indeed very interesting and most certainly harbour a good heart somewhere in that chest of yours. I think you and I are alike more than you think. Whether this is the case or not, I guess doesn’t matter – as soon you will be back in Spain… and, well, any hope for a friendship I may have will be in vain. But still, as your host, and perhaps as a friend, I’d like your stay here to be more than comfortable. I’d like you to have all that a young man like you or I is seeking in life.”
.....“Well, thank you for your sentiment….”
.....“I was just speaking with the lovely girl beside you,” Ivan interrupted, continuing in a hushed whisper, “She said that you didn’t introduce yourself. I can only imagine that it was because you were dreadfully tired.”
.....“I didn’t even notice her.”
.....“How could you not have?” Besides the lady with whom I was speaking earlier, she is no doubt the loveliest being in all of Bohemia.” The two clowns beside her have no chance courting her – and that is what they are trying to do. But she won’t give her heart to anyone – not to you not to me. Neither, I will add, will the girl from before.”
.....“Well, I will admit that the both are nice-looking, but why do you keep speaking of these women? I have come for jewels – for money and conquest.”
.....“But this, my lad, is a feast and we never speak of such things this late at night – except of course when we are gambling. I still have about five years on you, so do let me teach you a few things.”
The young man took Ivan’s hand off his collar and, pretending to ignore Ivan’s last comment, began to speak. “The young lady from earlier, her name…”
.....“Aurelle” Ivan offered, “…is her name.”
.....“And she, from earlier…” The young man continued, “She is your affection? Your blessure?”
.....“Not at all. And this brings up another story. Do you want a drink?” Ivan said handing a fresh whiskey to the young man. “My affection is the young lady with the two cousins… there.” Ivan said, tipping his glass in the direction of the girl who sat facing forward, watching the musicians play.”
.....“If she is your affection, Ivan, then I have a few things to teach you… for you spent the entire evening speaking to another woman.”
“As I said before, these two ladies are, no doubt, the finest in Bohemia – perhaps in all of Europe. Of course they know this and are in dreadful competition. They are both worthy of marrying any rich, powerful man. What is interesting is that they have never accepted a proposal from anyone – and many have proposed.”
.....“Hmm, so they are snobs. Nothing interesting there,” said the young man.
.....“As I said, they are in competition with each other – that is their only interest. They care little for men. All purposes behind their flirtations are to win the sole affections of the Prague aristocracy. When a man chooses one over the other, the chosen one triumphs.”
.....The band was now disassembling and it was necessary for Ivan to speak quieter so the lovely girl in the room would not overhear.
.....“The night is winding down, my boy,” Ivan whispered finally, “So I will get to the point. I am in love with the girl in this room… that is why I spent so long speaking to Aurelle tonight.”
.....“Hmm….”
.....“You see, when you give too much attention to one of the young ladies we have been speaking about, the other gets jealous and – as history has proven – tries to win the man over to her side. You’ll see, tomorrow, Aurelle will be flirting relentlessly with these two fools beside Katherine.”
.....“Katherine?” The young man questioned.
.....“Yes, Katherine… that is the name of the young lady beside you.”
.....“Oh,” Our young man offered up, feigning indifference. “So you love Katherine,” he began again, “But you flirt with Aurelle so that the former will love you?”
.....“Exactly,” Ivan confirmed.
.....“Then what? You can never leave Aurelle’s side for that of Katherine’s because then the latter will have won and she will no longer need your affections… for she will have achieved what she was seeking.”
“A delicate balance, my boy. If I play it right, I can marry them both.”
.....The young man laughed. “Well I must say, I care about something more than Bohemian jewels… I have only been here for a few hours but I am already, uncontrollably drawn to Miss Aurelle!” The young man lied.
.....“I know,” Ivan attested, “And she is chaste and available, and no doubt you sparked her interests tonight. But if you want to win her you must play the game I have just explained.”
.....“Well I won’t be playing any games… as you know, I must leave Bohemia by Tuesday – lest I lose my trading papers and my fortune.”
.....“Plenty of time, my boy. Besides, as I have said, Aurelle too is French and she will be returning to Paris soon - even sooner if you utilise the charm that I know is in you.”
.....“This talk is getting dull,” The young man yawned, “Haven’t you any cards? I would like to gamble.”
.....I’m afraid the evening is about over. But tomorrow will be a beautiful Sunday. I hope you will join us in the garden for sport and the luncheon… Monday we will begin at the markets.” With this conclusion, Ivan sat up straight, looked about himself and dusted off his velvet coat.
.....Then, the two identical gangly twins climbed off the cushions, dusted off their trousers and left the room as the last, lone mandolin player finished his last tune and put his instrument in its case. The lovely Katherine, who was then alone, stood, looked at the curtains briefly and walked over to the two men talking.
.....
Gute Nacht, Ivan”
.....“Oh Katherine wait… will you be joining us tomorrow?”
Katherine then turned to the young man. “When do you leave, Salvador?”
.....“Tuesday morning.”
.....“My, that’s early, well I hope to see you tomorrow.”
.....“Indeed, I will be here.”
.....“You too, Ivan. You come as well. Adieu.” Katherine kissed Ivan’s cheek. She then turned back towards the young man and offered her eyes, with a blush, as she left the room.

The young man woke earlier than all the others except for the servants the next morning. With no one in sight he climbed on a rickshaw and ordered the driver to take him down to the Karls Bridge. There he watched the golden sun play softly on the water. The streets around were quiet except for church bells and a few lone vegetable carts. The young man strayed from the bridge to walk the streets a bit. He entered the Jewish quarter where outside the synagogues crowds were beginning to gather. There were no bells on the synagogues and except for a few men chatting in the streets, all was quiet.
.....He walked a bit further and found an open café where coffee was served. The smell around the café was putrid – that of rotten vegetables or eggs. It was hardly tolerable. The young man asked the barmaid what caused the smell and she said that some new houses were being built with a technique that used whole eggs mixed with the lime and mortar. .....“The eggs will make the stone strong enough to withstand all future wars,” the lady claimed.
.....When the young man returned to his rickshaw, the driver was sitting on the edge of the bridge sketching pictures. They smoked together, and after the two returned up the hill, by the castle, to where Ivan lived.
.....Everyone was in the back garden when the two returned. They were drinking coffee and beginning a game that resembled the French game of petanque – a game that originated in Brittany. The young man was forced to play it with his parents during their vacations to the coast during the summers of his childhood. A rather dull game for a boisterous youth, it consists entirely of throwing metal balls across the yard for hours. The young man was only eight when petanque was first taught to him. His family would travel to Finistère each summer to visit relatives and the whole group would picnic on the beach and toss these balls across a court of sand. Each time, midway through the game, the young boy would always run away to go pick crabs on the shore. This was his favourite thing – lifting up large rocks and chasing the crabs as they scurried away. After he caught four or five large ones, he would take them into the summer cottage and put them, still alive, in the closet. It was his plan to take them back to Paris at the end of the summer and raise them as pets. Of course, a young boy gets distracted easily and often he would forget that he put the crabs in the closet until his family complained of a deathly smell. His father would search the cottage until he’d find the source of the smell. When the crabs were discovered, dead in the closet, the furious father would wring the boy’s wrists whereupon the latter would go out to the garden to bury his pets. Later trips to the Brittany coast would be consumed by the boy’s interest in digging up the garden to find the bones of the crabs buried years before.

Ivan was jumping around like a boy of twelve when Salvador entered the garden this Sunday morning. Our young man was not impressed by people so eager in the morning. Mornings for him had a tranquil, almost sad grace to them. He looked around for Katherine, the lovely dark-haired girl from the previous night, but she was nowhere in sight.
.....Salvador was not hungry, neither was he interested in the garden games. He sat down at a bench that was warm – catching the late summer sunlight – and tried to read a book that was in his pocket. Later in the day, fully convinced that Katherine would not be coming, he began to feel sick with the burden of pleasures lost. Yet he thought of how miserable Sundays can be in Paris and feeling the warm foreign sun on his face, he decided that he was really happy to have made the journey – his first alone – truly, truly alone – and he felt this freedom and after finishing his third glass of absinthe he went for a walk in the streets around the castle.
.....When Salvador returned to Ivan’s estate, he was nervously excited to discover that both Katherine and her much less interesting competitor, the fair-headed Aurelle, were gathered in the garden around the tea table.
.....The young man remembered Ivan’s silly, half-drunken talk from the night before and before disregarding it, he thought of how games of attraction with women were in their own way always silly and half drunken and those who were earnest always failed with their intentions. He decided not to dismiss Ivan’s previous words completely, due to his better knowledge of the two women and, as importantly, the few extra years he had on the young man. ‘According to Ivan’s advice,’ he thought, ‘if I am interested in Katherine, I had better bide my time visibly courting Aurelle. What a scoff! That is silly….’ The young man mused on this while strolling about the garden. Meanwhile, the newcomers took notice of the important guest – our young jewel trader – and gathered around to ask questions about how he found his previous night’s stay on the estate, whether or not his bed was soft enough and how it felt to be in a region as beautiful as Bohemia.
.....Salvador answered all of these questions more courteously than he would have done the previous night. He felt more complacent in the midday sun that was then upon his face. He also felt closer to Ivan after the two had shared their thoughts the night before. The young man was happy and enjoyed the company and attention of the guests on the estate.
.....It was soon after that that Aurelle led him away into the woods.
.....She had asked him to take a walk and the two had gone along the edge of a pond. They were still in the city of Prague but Prague had many parks and large estates bordering the castle where one could feel far away from everything. It was not this easy in Paris where the long urban streets stretched off into the horizons where they met other long urban streets. Even in the large, arborous Bois de Vincennes and Bois de Boulogne, surrounding Paris proper, there were beggars and whores giving the atmosphere a dirty, urban feel. The only place the young man felt this sense of calm in Paris was in his father’s courtyard. There he would often sit up in the pear trees and make up little songs. He dared never sing them aloud, lest his father overheard from his nearby office; however, he would make them up nonetheless and mumble them softly to himself.
.....The young man and the tall young beauty, Aurelle, walked around the pond talking together, comparing their lives, the places they came from and their plans for the future. Aurelle was sweet. She looked much younger in the golden midday light then she had the previous evening in the anteroom. She was kind. She laughed, and never brought up the necklace that the young man had destroyed. He was glad that she never brought it up. She was a very pretty girl in a technical sense yet there was something about her face that kept the young man from feeling any attraction for her. There was something about the way she carried herself too, something slightly repelling; and although he enjoyed her company then he felt that if he was forced to spend a long period of time with her the two would end up in a terrible battle. She had hard features, which were perfectly symmetrical, yet within them contained a chiselled form of cold paleness that was very unappealing to the young man. He had never appreciated women with hard features.
.....The two sat talking for almost an hour. There was a dock over the pond where they sat and the young man removed his shoes, rolled up his silk trousers and trolled his feet in the water. Aurelle did the same after much hesitation. Finally Ivan approached from the thicket and, after initially calling Aurelle back to the game, halted, pursed his lips, knitted his brow, made as if deep in thought, wished the two a pleasant time and turned to walk off, saying that he would return later when lunch was served.
.....Aurelle was very talented at reciting poetry. The young man played with the opal ring on his right hand while half-listening. He was about to offer the ring to her to make up for her broken necklace. Before he had the conviction to do so, however, she began to speak directly and blatantly affectionately towards him. He realized what was happening and, keeping the ring on his sweaty finger, insisted that the two return to Ivan’s garden.
.....Much later that day, as could be guessed, Aurelle confessed her attraction to and for the young man. He replied to her in his natural way when a woman is so forward: he thanked her and kissed her cheek … only after coming dangerously close to giving in to her wishes and reciprocating the vow. He resisted in the end and cursed himself for almost slipping into foolishness. Her disappointment was apparent but she continued to follow him about the garden – acquiescing to his commands and desires.
.....Later, after the young man noticed Ivan having a lively conversation with Aurelle, his suitor disappeared from his shadow. Ivan met him by the stove where a fire was being prepared for the dinner and the host directed a few unasked for words to him.
.....“Aurelle is a sweet girl. She appears eager but you must understand that she has never, nor will she ever belong to any man.”
.....“Fascinating!” mocked our young man.
.....“She does, however, show a deep interest in you and I must warn you that if you return the affections, she will have achieved her wishes and be finished with you altogether.”
.....The young man wondered why Ivan would incite such scandalous gossip with a relative stranger such as himself but he kept silent. These were indeed bizarre people. After all, he only came to empty his purse on a cartload of jewels. He would then be returning to Paris where he would forget all about Ivan and his silly companions.
.....Salvador, at this point however, could not easily think about the jewels in the market place – not after he had set eyes on the young Miss Katherine. Katherine, though, belonged to Ivan – and Ivan to his entourage; and there is no good obsessing about a woman when one is travelling hurriedly on important business.
.....The sun set early that late-summer evening and the moon was full in an almost cloudless sky, providing, with the warm air, a perfect evening for remaining in the garden during and after dinner. For the feast, the young man was seated by Ivan and next to Katherine, adjacent to an old couple who were visiting from Vienna. The young man was nervous to eat beside the young beauty and it took several glasses of wine before he spoke to her.
.....He finally asked, “Don’t you ever go home?”
.....“You want me to leave?” the fair Katherine replied.
.....“No, of course not; but I don’t understand why all these Germans, Austrians, Russians and even English are here.”
.....“I, also don’t understand why the English are here. I wish they would stay on their little island, however, I am from the rather dull and provincial German town of Weimar and I prefer to spend as much time as I can here… unfortunately, I will have to go back this Thursday.”
.....“I’ll be passing through Weimar – but I leave Tuesday – it’s a pity you can’t ride with me.”
.....“Can you not stay until Thursday?” There was a sincere hope in Katherine’s voice as she said this.
.....“Afraid not… my trading papers will be revoked if I don’t pass the border by Tuesday night.”
.....“Strange business you are in. But I’d like to go back with you – maybe even to Paris. It sounds like a beautiful city.”
.....“Actually, it’s a piece of sod. Paris is a dreadfully wet and unsightly boring town; but I’d like to take you to Spain. We could go to Andalusia – on a clear day you can see across the sea to the coast of Africa.”
.....“It sounds beautiful but much too dreamlike. I have never travelled farther south than Germany and I fear that if I saw a land so beautiful, I would never want to return.”
.....“There is no reason to return. You can swim in the sea throughout the year; your body will become bronze from the sun, your mind will be clear and strong, and you will find a happiness that you have never known.”
.....The young man continued to speak and Katherine listened, charmed by his stories of the southern countries. She then spoke about her life in Germany and her hopes for the future and the two grew soft in spirits together and truly happy on that rare August night in the ivy-laced Bohemian garden with the moon steady over the stones of the courtyard walls.
.....The young man worried about being too affectionate, for, as Ivan told, Katherine was his love and Ivan promised the night before that he would go to any length to win her. The young man and the young Katherine, however, naturally grew close to each other and that evening, their bodies came to touch as they sat on the stone wall talking. Ivan didn’t seem to notice the couple together. He could be seen occasionally taking walks with Aurelle in the grass as the other guests moved inside with their drinks and laughter. Later, two girls, the older sisters of Katherine came outside and called Katherine into the house. The older sisters were pleasant, slightly drunk from wine, much more plain in appearance than their younger sister, regardless, they took Katherine away from the young man for too long.

Salvador fell off the wall. He had been pushed by Ivan. Ivan was stepping into a role of the young man’s old school friend – not a welcome position. Even if Ivan was tolerable, even if the young man could possibly grow to eventually like the big Slovak, he was still in Bohemia briefly on business and didn’t look forward to making friends, or lovers, and leaving them behind in these northern valleys. Ivan nevertheless was playful and persistent and after the young man expressed a desire to be left alone that night, Ivan boxed him in the shoulders and cheek and sat down beside him on the grass.
.....“Aurelle, has certainly fallen for you,” Ivan said laughing, “Katherine is, I must say, indifferent to your presence, but the fact that you were talking to her for so long made Aurelle extremely jealous. That’s good for her! The only way to win a girl like Aurelle is by making her jealous - the same with Katherine. The only reason I spoke to Aurelle for so long is to upset her lovely, black-haired competitor… I just tell you this so you don’t think I’m trying to court Aurelle with my obvious attentions to her.”
.....“I don’t care where your attentions end up, Ivan. Anyway, you have to understand that I’m not here to win anyone – I’m here to win a fortune, that’s all.”
.....“My dear sensitive Salvador,” Ivan continued, “I’d rather not continue in these word games with you. As your host and, I feel, as a new friend, I think I can share with you information on a clear level – without fear that you will repeat my confidences to others nor use them against me. I do not say this as one who is suspicious, only as one who has seen the truth become twisted, resulting in an ugly mess of gossip and misunderstanding. Misunderstanding is my only fear. I do, I am certain, feel that we are on a level of confidence. I just hope that if you feel confused by anything I say, you understand that it is a simple miscommunication and with a few questions asked and answered between us, we can clear any matter up.”
.....“I have not felt there to be any word games between us,” The young man contested, “I have offered myself to you as clearly and honestly as possible… now do tell me what you are talking about.”
.....“You’re aware that I seek to marry Katherine. It is for this that I pay such attentions to Aurelle as I do,” Ivan lied, “If I were to openly propose to Katherine, she would no doubt refuse.”
.....“Not if she truly loved you….” The young man’s words trailed off in a mumble.
.....“My naïve boy, Katherine is not a girl with a heart. She is a girl from a fine – somewhat cruel - family in Berlin” … “She seeks only power and the power she seeks is the attainment of the eyes of men. Prague is a small city - ears are few and open. If I were to propose to her, she would be regarded by all as the most desired woman in Prague. It would goes as far as the daily paper and it would go as far as the castle interior. She would have no use for me after this. Here is where I ask a favour… The custom stands, we both know, where you are to offer me jewels upon your departure. But what I’d like even more than that is for you offer your affections to Katherine. The result will be certain: Aurelle will fall more deeply in love with you and ask to accompany you on your journey to Spain. Katherine will show no further interest in you and come this Tuesday morning, you will leave Bohemia, alone, with all your jewels and no harm done.”
.....“Firstly, why do you ask this of me? Certainly you have other friends to help you in this.”
.....“Simply because you are the most handsome young man in the gates of Prague,” Ivan laughed nervously with his statement of flattery, “and because you are a stranger.”
.....“But you said ‘leave alone’?” The young man questioned, “What if I am actually in love with Miss Aurelle? You object to me taking her back to Spain?”
.....“Not at all,” Ivan continued, “and I know that she would love to accompany you. I do ask, however, as a favour to me, that you leave Bohemia alone and call for Aurelle at a later date – after I have proposed to Katherine.”
.....“Well, actually I haven’t decided how I feel about Miss Aurelle. But I believe that I would like her to return with me to the south the day after tomorrow,” the young man lied.
.....“It is better if you leave Bohemia alone this Tuesday and send for Aurelle when you reach Frankfort. Word will arrive here by Friday and I assure you that Aurelle will leave immediately to meet you in Germany. The two of you can travel on alone from there on.”
.....The two men devised their plans together – unaware of each other’s true intentions. Meanwhile the guest retired indoors – some to read by the fire, others to sleep in the guestrooms. Some of the attendants boarded their private coaches and rode down the hill to their private homes in various parts of the city. The old Viennese couple continued to dance, asserting that the fiddle player drink vodka to stay awake. They danced long after the fiddle player passed out in the kitchen – long after the young man, Ivan, Aurelle and Katherine went to sleep in their respective rooms.

The next day began early. The young man awoke when the sun was still red. He roused Ivan and some other guests and they tiredly drank coffee while the servants were sweeping up. There would be only men travelling to the jewel market. The ladies were still asleep. Ivan quietly woke Katherine and asked if she’d like to go to the market. She was happily getting dressed when Aurelle stirred and asked if she could join them. Ivan told her that there would be only men going to the market. He then went and told Katherine to go back to sleep - before she could object he disappeared through the hall and boarded the departing coaches.
.....The market consumed the town hall and the street surrounding the Powder Castle. Vendors from all over the region had set up stands or laid out blankets and were selling marvels, charms, silver trinkets and musical instruments. The men’s coach was expected by a group of finely dressed Jewish businessmen who led them into the ground floor of a large urban mansion. They were given wine. The young jewel trader objected to the wine and, instead, took tea. Musicians were brought in to entertain the young trader and his entourage. The sofa he was offered was stiff and uncomfortable. He opted instead for a cushion on the floor, which he sat on while propping his back against a fluted column and drinking tea. One by one, vendors entered with their finest offerings. The young man knew well how to judge the quality and cut of the jewels. His father had instructed him with firm discipline and he ignored the annoyance of his entourage’s insistence that he purchase the Bohemian coloured lead crystal or other bulky, low-value goods.
.....The young trader purchased several kilos of garnets. Their grade was high but garnets in general were not of exquisite value, although it was the tendance for young Parisians to wear garnet bracelets and brooches. This effected the market and it was necessary to buy several kilos. He also, as his father had requested, purchased eight kilos of astral emeralds and sapphires. The cuts were fine but not expertise. He could have them recut in Paris. Some of the emeralds were engraved – which was seldom seen outside of the orient – this style didn’t please the young man but cut emeralds were also very popular with the young wealthy Parisians. Purchasing gemstones was similar to gambling in a casino. The dealers offered wine and cognac to try and loosen the purse strings of the buyer. Hands moved quickly and eyes darted around, it was necessary to think quickly and act cautiously.
.....The young man was often reckless in behaviour but he had been trained well in this trade so when he was alone in the Prague marketplace, he acted cool and wisely. After he secured parcels of emeralds, sapphires and garnets, he asked that the doors be barred so no more dealers could enter. Ivan and the young man drank – the latter, finally opting for a glass of wine – and talked merrily on the Bohemian tapestries. The young man gave Ivan many of the gifts he had been offered by the dealers – mostly bulky crystal trinkets. Ivan accepted without hesitance and they continued to drink.
.....Their coaches had been moved to the rear of the mansion – to a gated courtyard where fountains flowed and ivy climbed. The entourage disappeared quietly through the back and, after loading the jewels in the coaches, left through the cobbled streets of Prague.
.....The young man had no reason to worry about robbers. Neither did he worry about Ivan’s men ransacking his parcels. A successful jewel trader had a large network of comrades who ensured that he was respected and slightly feared. The only threats to a successful jewel trader were the officials at the foreign borders – for they worked for the government, had the government on their side, yet their low pay and status ensured that they remained deviant and unfaithful to all – including to their own governments,

On the way back, Ivan exclaimed that he wanted to stop by the grand Muzeum to show the young man all the relics of the great Bohemian wars. The young man wouldn’t hear of that, however, there were too many valuables in the coaches – even if Ivan’s men remained outside to guard them, it was not an option. Besides, the young man wanted to return to the estate to see Katherine.
.....The girls were not present when the men returned and the young man felt suddenly lonesome upon returning. There was another feast planned; it was Monday afternoon and the young man would be passing the border the next day. They would eat, drink, sleep and then ride west, Ivan kept saying as if it was a grand adventure to look forward to.

Ivan hoped that the girls would not return that night. He had not invited them but that hadn’t stopped their casual appearances in the past. Ivan knew exactly the unrest that was caused by the handsome young man’s presence and he had thought it over and over and decided that if it came down to it, he would be ready to kill the young man. He didn’t care what power or army the young man had on his side. If it were necessary, Ivan would kill him without delay. Ivan drank his tea and smiled with a new sense of carefree power.
.....Meanwhile the young man considered Ivan’s earlier words and decided that it might not be a good idea to confess his feelings to Katherine. He had already, in his brief life, known many cruel women who cared more about power than sincerity. Still the young man felt, while picturing Katherine’s soft and pale face, that she was neither malevolent nor petty. ‘She would not be interested in such futile games,’ he thought. He drank the bitter tea beside Ivan and sifted through his purchases of that day.

The young man had many plans and ideas for attaining this young jewel, Katherine, but each one was flawed and uncut. He speculated on Ivan’s true malevolent wishes and came to the conclusion that no one within the boundaries of Bohemia was truly on his side – at least not yet.

Salvador resisted when Ivan insisted that the two of them leave the estate and spend the evening out in the high-class dens and salons of Prague. There was a feast in preparation and the young man was determined to remain for it. A young lady entered the room. She was tall and blonde. Her face was almost pleasant but slightly bony – sharing the Slovak appearance that was common amongst Ivan’s friends. She walked with her head hunched over from disproportionate height. Her body was overly thin and this kept her from achieving the graceful movements that she was obviously seeking to convey. Her laugh was plentiful yet disturbing, full of snorts and heckles and she immediately took a fondness for the handsome young man. She apparently had no other reason for sitting beside him other than to show that she adored to speak of France, and specifically of Paris. The young man didn’t want to speak with her about Paris, he didn’t care for Paris rhetoric and he cared even less for her pedantic way of speaking. He humoured her for a short while, then poked fun at the way she spoke of the old Parisian writers whom she obviously didn’t understand. Finally during one of her sentences, he fell asleep on a plate of bread that was set out in front of him.
.....Although she was insulted, she laughed at this and moved on to interrupt a conversation that was taking place not too far away.

The young man awoke soon after to a caress on his neck and lower collar. He didn’t awake suddenly but softly, and comfortably. Turning his head, he had expected to see Ivan cooing softly with his palms upon the young man’s back – instead it was Katherine. He looked to her eyes softly, which held both the romantic light of mid-evening as well as the nurturing affection of a mother. He held her eyes briefly and then turned to see if Ivan was in the room.
.....“Are you looking for Ivan?” she asked.
.....“No,” the young man said softly.
.....“Oh, well he was outside taking a barrel of vodka from a wagon when the cat dragged the sandbag out from beneath its wheel. The old wagon rolled down the hill. He’s probably chased it clear down to the Jewish quarter,” she laughed.
.....The young man laughed too - softer though, more concerned with the woman beside him.
.....“I will be leaving early tomorrow morning.”
.....“I know,” Katherine responded.
.....“Would you like to see Spain?”
.....“Someday,” she replied, with no hope in her voice.
.....“Are you engaged here in Prague?” The young man asked.
.....“For the moment… but I do not plan to return after I am back in Germany.”
.....“Is Ivan going to accompany you to Germany?”
.....“That is not planned – why do you ask?” Katherine took her soft hands off of the young man and crossed them over her breast. A pendant with a small crystal bird swung back and forth from the movement.”
.....“Isn’t Ivan the reason you are here?”
.....“Certainly not!” Katherine laughed, “I am here with my brother, Ivan’s closest friend. I accompanied him here for the first time last week.”
.....“And your brother… he is the fiancé of Miss Aurelle?” The young man asked, testing the situation.
.....“A humorous idea! That would, indeed upset his friend Ivan.”
.....“Why so?”
.....“You and Ivan have spoken intimately often during the last two days… he didn’t mention that he is to marry Aurelle?”
.....“No,” The young man said truthfully.
.....“That is surprising, considering Aurelle has taken quite an interest in you. I figured that Ivan would have made his position clear… so you mean that he didn’t tell you this even after you gave the chain of opals to his fiancée?”
.....“I haven’t given a chain of opals to anyone, in fact I accidentally destroyed her string of pearls.”
.....“Very curious, these games you boys play.”
.....
The young man decided then to ask the young Katherine for a walk in the garden when an abrupt, rather dashing man danced over and grabbed her hand, leading her to the wood floor under the chandelier where the two could dance to the music of the piano player who was commencing.
.....The young man watched the two of them. He felt childish jealousy as the young man swung her around and held her by the waist. ‘What did she mean by that ‘chain of opals’ who told her…?’
.....Rather than watch Katherine dance with another man, Salvador went alone to the garden. This night was a bit cooler and, not feeling like a lonesome promenade, he returned to the steps to smoke.
.....The couple – Katherine and the new stranger, tall and handsome with hair as dark as Katherine’s – soon after appeared on the patio where the young man was smoking. They were holding hands and laughing with affection and joy and this made our young man cringe jealousy – jealousy and apathy.
.....Salvador, coincidentally in fact, had a chain of opals – it was in his pocket. And while the couple approached, he thumbed it nervously.
.....“My brother.” Katherine said, tilting her head towards her companion.
.....“He is your… your brother?” The young man asked, feeling silly, relieved and a dozen other pleasant emotions.
.....“Nice to meet you, Salvador!” A hand was outstretched.
.....“A great pleasure!” Salvador too reached out his hand, but his contained the chain of opals, which he pressed into the brother’s hand… .....“For you.”
.....The brother eyed the chain, bowed low and thanked him. When he realized that they were true opals, he became even more grateful, “Did you know that the opal is my birthstone? I was born in October.”
.....“I too,” said the young man, “the twenty-third.”
.....“And I on the twenty-fourth!” laughed Katherine’s brother.
.....The two men talked charmingly and lightly together for several moments with great sincerity and mutual appreciation. Katherine’s brother, for the opals he received and the sudden politeness of the young man; and the young man, for it was the brother of his adored Katherine, and for this alone he was worthy of respect.
.....Katherine was eager to be among the two men in their conversation and she darted her ears and eyes back and forth as they spoke.
.....Meanwhile, the blue-lit clouds above thinned and formed wispy, lamp-shaped streaks that blew across the sky as a new, warm breeze descended, making the night feel like mid-summer, and the stars blinked gay and bright.
.....The hedges and thickets of rhododendrons contrasted sharply against the sky. They absorbed the light of the stars and after the brother had happily returned inside, Katherine and the young man walked between them, talking of Bohemia, of Germany, of youth and the future. They were soon after much closer and naturally their hands fell together to feel one another as they walked.

Those moments in the garden didn’t last long enough for our young man – neither for Katherine. The new couple was interrupted by a drunken trail of singers, led by the pedantic woman who had earlier begged the attention of Salvador. The group of singers were colourful with bright streamers trailing off their feet and monstrous makeshift costumes. The brother, third in the line, pulled the young man and Katherine into the group of howlers and, after the orgy had grown to fill the garden, Katherine had disappeared whereas the young man stood alone, wandering around, looking for her; finding not, he went in search of a glass of wine.
.....It was at the banquet table some moments later that Ivan approached. He was unusually sober and cool. The young man joked a bit with no reaction and then asked the large, brooding figure to take a walk.
.....“Have you seen Aurelle?” he asked the young man.
.....“Much earlier.”
.....The two fell silent. All the while, the young man thought to himself. Realizing that he owed Ivan essentially nothing, and that he would be leaving the following morning, he went forward and spoke without apprehension.
.....“Why do you worry so much about Aurelle this night?”
.....“I was just speaking….”
.....The young man interrupted, “I thought you were in love with Katherine.”
.....“Of course I am – that is my blessure,” Ivan sulked.
.....“Then why are you engaged to marry Aurelle?”
.....“Who on earth told you this?” Ivan appeared shocked.
.....“Katherine’s brother,” the young man said without thinking and regretted it afterwards.
.....“Oh!” laughed Ivan, “Indeed I told him this when Katherine and I had a falling out… about six months ago, after I first met Katherine.” Here Ivan stopped speaking and began to whistle a carefree tune that annoyed the young man.
.....“Do go on….”
.....“I already explained that Katherine had initially confessed her love for me. I have not lied to you in any way.”
.....“And you love Katherine. Why then did you tell her brother that you were engaged to Aurelle?” The young man was confused.
.....“Katherine and I would probably be married now if I hadn’t grown unbelievably jealous one afternoon when I saw Katherine kiss a man rather affectionately in my own courtyard. It was a just several days after I met her. She came alone in the night from Berlin and introduced herself. I was immediately entranced and, although I didn’t understand why she came to my estate, I let her in and had the maids prepare a bed for her…
.....“That week the two of us fell madly in love with each other and were inseparably – morning till night. Only two days later she disappeared for several hours. Finally I caught a glimpse of her near the fountain. I couldn’t see clearly but I knew she was kissing a strange man. I drew a blade from the wall near the door and charged the man in jealousy. That was the first time that I had such an immensity of blood upon my hands and clothes. When I came threw from a dizzy sickness that followed, I realized that the man I almost killed was my best friend, the brother of Katherine. That is why Katherine came to my estate. She had planned to reunite with her brother. He was indeed my best friend and he soon forgave me for the near-fatal wounds. Katherine, however, ended our romance and I took solace in the company of Aurelle. Since then I have been trying bring Katherine back to me.”
.....The young man didn’t want to believe that Katherine had ever loved Ivan but his story sounded in earnest.
.....Ivan trembled slightly in the moonlight. He looked much too human there. His hard Slovak features showed wrinkles and his body hunched over in soft weakness. Before, the young man had wanted to take Katherine off in the night like a rogue; but now, after seeing the feebleness of his friend Ivan, he decided that it was right and noble to fight fairly for the love of this woman. He decided then that he would leave in the morning as planned and, upon bidding farewell to Miss Katherine, he would offer her the opportunity to reunite with him in Spain, or in France, or even in Germany – as far as she could travel alone.

When Ivan and the young man finished speaking that evening, the both looked at each other with a mutual, unmentioned respect for one another. The young man felt well of this Bohemian prince, whose eyes were capable of revealing the pain of an urban beggar. And when he let him be that night and slipped off in the dark to the room where he was to be sleeping, he felt closer to the moon and the wisps of clouds against the balmy night sky; and he let the gossip and foolishness rest on the damp earth, in the dark, far below his chamber window.

.....“Hooo…hooo.”
.....“Hello?”
.....“Hooo… hooo… it’s your little German owl… are you sleeping?”
.....“Oh, you came!” the young man said with hope and sleep-filled eyes. He rolled back his bedclothes to let Katherine, his little owl, sit down beside him on the edge of the bed. The room was dark all but a lamp that was left burning on the balcony near a nightingale’s nest.
.....“Hello sweet owl,” the young man said sleepily to Katherine, caressing her bare arm as she sat beside him.
.....“When do you leave tomorrow?” she asked – a bit worried.
.....“Early.”
.....“I wish I could come with you,” Katherine whispered, stretching herself out beside the young man – simultaneously kissing him on the forehead.
.....“Will you?” He replied with hope, lying his head on her breast.
.....“I’m afraid I must wait her with my brother until the troops pass next week. But if you can not stay with me here, I will go as far as Spain to find you.”
.....“I won’t go far without you. I would stay with you but then, I’m afraid, my papers will expire and neither will I be able to return with the gemstones, nor will I have an entourage to return me to Spain.”
.....“I understand your duties, but please know that I would return with you next week, had you no jewels nor even any money – even if I had to carry the rickshaw, that you were to ride in, myself.”
.....Kissing her softly, “I’m afraid that many of the jewels I carry have already been purchased by others. But this is still no reason to say goodbye. I will return for you or by any means.”
.....The two lay softly together for quite a while. Outside the young man’s room, the sounds of no one could be heard. The young man lay awake, tracing the shapes of the shadows on the wall with his fingers. The young lady was almost asleep when he spoke again.
.....“I will return to Spain with the jewels and the immediately ride to Weimar to reunite with you. It shouldn’t take more than two weeks.”
.....“My love,” Katherine said for the first time, “There is no reason for you to return to Spain immediately. You can deposit the jewels in Weimar – at my brother’s – and wait there for me – or return here if you’d like… then we will travel to Spain together.
.....The young man thought about this and realized that he could be back with Katherine in two days. ‘But what,’ he thought, ‘what about Ivan, the man who stabbed another out of jealousy for the affections of Katherine. It would not be safe for him to return to Prague for her.’ It was apparent that Ivan would, upon the couple’s departure, hunt the young man down and slay him.
.....“I will,” he continued, “leave the gems at your brothers. Then I will wait a few days and travel to the border of Bohemia and Germany where I will greet you and your brother upon your voyage… It will just be the two of you departing, correct?”
.....“Yes… and do you mean it? You’ll travel to find me?”
.....“I will,” the young man concluded.
The two new lovers drifted quickly and unknowingly to sleep in each others arms. At dawn, Katherine awoke and realized that she must return to her room. With a kiss they confirmed plans and Katherine slipped out the door.
.....The young man thought quietly. He was no longer quiet. He lay silently and thought with great pleasure and apprehension about the coming week. ‘When we are together and travelling to Spain, everything will be alright.’ He thought, ‘I will have to stop in Paris and give the jewels and the papers to my father; then, it is sure, I will go to Spain. We will seek the sun and be alone together – Katherine and me.

When the birds lit up the blue sky with their song, the young man dressed quietly and entered Ivan’s room to rouse him. Ivan was pleasant but quite tired and while the young man drank coffee in the kitchen, Ivan prepared the wagons and the other men.
.....The caravan trailed up the side of the sunlit hills, exactly as it had rode in. Ivan and the young man shared the trailing, two-man rickshaw, lined with velvet and cabinets of oak and mahogany. They drank brandy together and in an informal ceremony the young man offered Ivan – as expected – many valuable gifts in exchange for the hospitality. Ivan wanted to wait for the exchange until before they reached the customs gates but the young man was very excited to give Ivan his gifts. Ivan received them very sentimentally and this annoyed the young man. Thus, after they had only been in the same coach together for twenty-minutes, after they had just left the confines of Prague, the young man made a pretext to go and sit with the drivers who were swearing and drinking. The young man did enjoy their company more than that of the overly refined Ivan, but there was some weak spirit in Ivan’s soul that the young man would miss after the two had parted ways. Nevertheless, Ivan was the man whom the young man was about to betray, and so it is better that he not ride in the same carriage.
.....Once Ivan ceased shouting up ahead to our young man, and after the drivers stopped taking notice of him, the young man slipped back to the third car – which was empty except for his wine and his jewels. There he could be alone and comfortable and he revelled in it for the few moments he stayed there.
.....Soon, after the commotion had stopped and all of the passengers fell silent with the realisation that they had yet a long way to go, the young man quickly strapped the burlap bags of gemstones to his back and dove out of the coach into a neighbouring bush.

Rising from the ditch on the roadside, he had scratches on his legs and arms from the brier, but he shook off the pain in order to watch the road. He had to see if his companions’ wagons stopped. He thought that he should run if Ivan or one of the drivers noticed that he was gone.
.....‘No, on second thought,’ he considered, ‘it’s perfectly reasonable to think that I just fell out of the wagon when I was trying to return to Ivan’s coach. I’ll say that I would have chased after them but I was too hurt from the briar cuts… then I can escape again a few more kilometres down the road.’

There was, however, no sign of stopping wagons nor approaching drivers. The road was clear. The young man was mostly intact; he had his jewels and he would head back to Ivan’s estate – to meet Katherine.

Our young man then walked for several hours before finding a farm inhabitant who offered him running water to cleanse his wounds. Initially, the farmer didn’t trust the young man for his loose travelling clothes and burlap sacs were stained with mud and blood and torn by thorns.

After offering the farmer, who was growing more and more belligerent as the two’s conversation progressed, several blue sapphires, his temperament turned to kindness and the farmer agreed to sell the young man a horse.

The young man paid for the horse with a few of the lowest-grade gems. The farmer didn’t know the difference. Once the horse was purchased and untied, the young man galloped off towards the estate. He had very little time to return to the frontier before his gems were seized and his papers robbed. His first priority, however, was to return to Katherine and bring her with him at all cost.
.....When the young man returned, Katherine was at the estate speaking with the maids. The young man called to her from the garden quietly and she brightened up, ran out and jumped upon him – wrapping her arms around his body.
.....He explained with less affection than urgency that she had to cross the frontier with him immediately. He offered to provide her brother with whatever money he needed to stay safely in Bohemia until after the German troops passed through.
.....She almost acquiesced without question. Then she asked, “Where is Ivan?”
.....Here he recounted his escape to her whereupon she informed him that there was only one road that could take him to Germany that evening. She insisted that he return on that road and, when meeting Ivan on his way back, explain that he fell out of the coach. He could then cross the frontier alone and wait for her. She would also take that road, but ride a few kilometres behind. Her plan was to hide herself in a dark hood. She explained that there would be danger if Ivan and his men found him and her heading for the border together.
.....The young man acquiesced to her plan. The important things were that he returned to Germany that evening, with his papers and the jewels and Katherine near to him – and that she never again comes face to face with Ivan.

The young man set out again, alone on his horse. He said goodbye to Katherine with less tender romance but more fiery passion than he had ever offered a woman.
.....She didn’t question his behaviour yet she also bid so long with passion and worried longing.
.....He watched from the hilltop as Katherine too mounted a horse, hooded and unrecognisable, and began to climb the hill.

The young man increased his speed to a gallop. He would have to continue at that pace if he were to return to the border before his papers expired. The burlap sacks were firmly strapped on either side of the horse. The jewels within belonged to his father, yet he would be able – it was certain – to retain enough of them to comfortably travel to Spain with Katherine.
.....Later, not doubting her intentions, only doubting the clarity of their plan, the young man climbed a hill with his horse off the side of the road. From this hill, he could see the rooftops of Prague; he could also see the hooded rider many kilometres back. It was no doubt Katherine the lonesome rider, and he watched her for many moments, thinking sweetly of their time together.

The young man met Ivan sometime later – on the same road they had, together, travelled down. Ivan was confused – but if he was furious, it was well masked. The young man told the story of the accident that he had invented and Ivan was relieved. Ivan said that normally, the young man shouldn’t attempt to cross the border alone, for the border officials are bandits and they would now doubt, rob his papers, gems and money. This the young man knew and he asked, knowing Ivan was too tired, if one of his men – a government official, could accompany and ensure that the young man passed freely.
.....“There is no need for that,” Ivan said, “We made it clear to the border before discovering that you had fallen out of the coach. The road was bare and there were no officials at the gate. I’m happy to say that you could cross easily with as many jewels or contraband that you care to.”
.....This brought unimaginable relief to the young man as, due to the late hour, he wasn’t sure if he could make the border before midnight – the hour that his papers expired.
.....“So go alone my boy, and – with no need to wish you luck, I wish you well,” Ivan said.
.....The young man gave Ivan another colourless sapphire, which was loose in his pocket and bid farewell. The caravan continued on, back for Prague. The young man looked back to watch their leaving and then galloped forth towards the German border.
.....The hills of Bohemia were even more green and voluptuous, this late-August eve, than the finest country in Switzerland or Austria ever was at noon. The young man felt in love with the dark-haired girl and in a dream on the whole expense; he was lazy and happy… until he reached the border.

There were, as Ivan had promised, no customs officials at the frontier line and the young man passed free and easy. He waited on the German side for several hours but his lazy happiness turned to longing for the girl.
.....‘She was only a few kilometres back,’ thought the young man as he built a small fire with some scotch broom that was growing nearby the hill.
.....The night sky was steady, as it had been for hours and the chill, together with the brilliant stars made the young man think that midnight had already passed.
.....He thought that there might have been a problem with Katherine passing the border in the event that the guards had returned.
.....‘There couldn’t have been a problem,’ he thought, ‘she is alone, unarmed, and more importantly, she is German.’
..... Still, with his doubts, he returned to the road and rounded the hill where the border could be seen easily.
.....The customs men had, in fact, returned to their posts. They were in an old shingled shed. Occasionally, a traveller would pass the road, smoking, tossing rocks off over the hill’s ledge.
.....‘Any moment,’ the young man thought, ‘Katherine will ride towards me on her horse – cloaked in a dark hood. She will pass the border and curve the bend in the road where I will be waiting, waiting to take her from her horse into warm embrace.’

Thus, it went almost exactly like that. The dark rider soon appeared on the horizon. She rode on and forward and passed easily the border. The young man could see her from the small hilltop on the German side where he stood, elated and hopeful.
.....The hooded rider continued on for a few moments until the frontier line of Bohemia was well behind her.
.....Soon she dismounted her horse and looked around through the folds of her hood, whilst holding the reigns and leading the mare.
..... The young man descended the hill and came upon the back of the rider. The latter let out a voice of surprise in a frightened feminine voice. Then, noticing it was our young man who stood before her, she cried, “Salvador!”, whereupon she wrapped her arms around his waist.
.....Then the rider pulled off her hood. A face of deep grief was undeniably present on the young man when he discovered the young woman to be not Katherine but Miss Aurelle in her place.
.....A sort of horror, commonly accompanying moments like these, befell the young man and he asked, “Explain what this is, Aurelle. Tell me why you are here.”
.....“I was told that you wished me to come.”
.....“By whom?”
.....“You mean,” she continued, ignoring his last question, “You are not happy to see me? We were to go to Paris together, Salvador.”
.....“Aurelle, I am happy you came after all,” the young man lied, “But who told you to meet me here?”
.....“The maid in the kitchen,” Aurelle lied, embracing the young man again.
.....Yet, he shook her arms off, “Did you pass any others on the road as you were riding?”
.....“Yes… Ivan and his men. But with my hood I passed them easily unnoticed.”
.....This hood she wrapped her fingers in while speaking through her small, hard-boned mouth. It was the same, or similar, hood that Katherine had shone to him as the two bade farewell outside Ivan’s Estate early in the day.
.....“There were no others?” the young man asked.
.....“Yes… a cart with some grains led by a farmer and his children.
.....“No others?”
.....“Yes, why? Do we leave now, my sweet boy, for France?”
.....“What others? Who were the others?!”
.....“Well, no others. Really, no one else. Do we leave now for France, Salvador?”
.....“Aurelle, I’m afraid I must catch up with Ivan, I left two bags of gems in his rickshaw. I must get them – then I will return.”
.....“But, as I’m aware, you can’t again cross the border with these jewels or you will lose them” … “You may, however, leave them with me,” Aurelle said eyeing the bulky burlap sacks.
.....“I may also leave them with the customs men,” The young man said, .....“They are armed and will be safe with them.” He knew that the stories were true, that the customs officials were most-often indeed dishonest bandits who would very easily steal the gems, but the young man still had his papers on him and it was essential that he find Katherine.

At the border, the officials checked every bag. The young man said that there was no reason for this since he was not attempting to pass with the jewels. He would be leaving them at the frontier, for the men to safeguard.
.....“And I will pay you a quarter of emeralds and sapphires for your trouble, good men.”
.....“Well son, I’m afraid you will have to leave your papers with us too. You may not pass into Bohemia with these papers, now expired.”
The young man knew better than this but, as he only cared about finding Katherine, he acquiesced in a flurry of fever and handed over his father’s decorated papers.

The road back was dark and unlit, yet his mare knew the way to ride and the young man fell into a wakeful reverie – all the while, keeping his eyes out for Ivan’s company and for Katherine.
.....Neither were to be seen on the road to Prague. When he returned to the area surrounding the city, he could see lit roads and dark rooftops surrounding the Vltava River, which flowed through the center of Prague.

Few people marched in the streets as he descended the hills near the castle - some soldiers and peasants were all. Coloured lanterns shone brilliantly through the walls of the wealthy landowner’s gates. Their reflections spotted on the ponds in the misty night.
.....Another feast was commencing at Ivan’s estate. From the barred gate, the young man could see lit rooms and figures passing in the windows – holding champagne glasses, drinking. The sounds of laughter could be heard. Couples fled with each other, arm in arm, from the music-filled halls of the mansion to be alone together in the mild night. They passed between the rows of bushes and hedges periodically and the young man called out to them, demanding entrance to the garden. The guests were all too drunk and consumed by their companions to heed his shouting from the locked gates, where, eventually guards took position and denied our young man’s entrance.

Though many young women passed through the yard, not one was Katherine. The young man circled the garden to the back of the house where another locked gate stood before him – where other guards stood a-guarding. And here he stood and looked through the far off window of the salon illuminated by a thousand candles, and from here he could see – no doubt it was her – he could see the soft face of Katherine as she sat beside her brother, drinking wine and smiling. He called to her but, alas, the sound of the band and the distance between them kept him from being heard or seen. After every attempt capable of a bold mind, the young man was not able to re-enter the estate of Ivan where his dear girl was engaged.
.....It was only after Ivan himself came to the back garden, threatened the intruder and asked the guards to have him arrested, should he linger even a moment longer, that he realized his position: that of a young paperless foreigner, penniless, jewelless, and a threat to the master of the house. He remounted his horse and left the gates of Prague.

On the eastward ride, where the road was empty of travellers and the night was advancing to the dark and frigid moment near the edge of dawn, the young man’s thoughts were not on Katherine – of her affairs and the feast she was attending; nor were they on the incalculable Ivan, who, in the end, revealed himself to be a villain of the commonest kind. He thought not once of the unknown and unwanted Aurelle, who was to be as far from the Bohemian border upon his return as would be the customs guards to whom he had handed over his fortune. His only thoughts were of his father – a man, all so human – a father who awaited his son’s return from his first solo voyage, an initiation into the life of a man, with a purse of profit and the entrusted documents – the pride of the family – unharmed. It was for his father that our shamed young man kept his head bowed on his slow return to his country, to his home.

THE END


AUTHOR’S NOTE: I wrote this longish tale in 1999 after returning to Paris from my travels in Prague and throughout Bohemia. It was autumn. I travelled light – only clothing and blank journals which I intended to fill with tales of my journey. Alas, the clothes were well-worn but the journals remained blank. I rarely find time or interest to write while travelling. I prefer to linger about the haunts, cafés, streets, rathskellers and vistas of the region I’m in, observing the culture, drinking the local drinks and conversing with the local ladies and men. It is only upon returning from these jaunts that I am reliably surged with inspiration to reflect and write. Bohemia, as a region, had a singular effect on me. The day I returned, I began “Bohemia”, the story, with great fervor; and I didn’t stop writing until it was finished – sometime after dawn. I will admit that I consider this tale to be less than perfectly sublime, less than stylistically gorgeous, but it stands as a good example of my early youthful prose; and as some readers have reported experiencing a certain joy while reading it, I include it in this collection. Having just finished my first novel “Crepuscule” a few months ago, I am about to begin another. I plan to call it “Cities and Countries” and it will be, j’espère, what “Bohemia” could have been … had I been older … had I then the scars, the wounds, and the beauty-marks of experience that I have now.
- Roman Payne

 

 

"Bohemia", a short story by Roman Payne
Written: Autumn 1999
 
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