Illustration: ink and watercolour
on paper, Roman Payne
The 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
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 who 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
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 into 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 outlandish men – just
one step above common bandits. They would rob every passer-by of his/her
freedom and possessions if the border crossers didn’t have their
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 is also 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
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
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,
“Without his papers?” reinquired Ivan inquisitively.
“He’s there on pleasure… where are your papers,
“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
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
be condescending to 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
“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
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
“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
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
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 snatched 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, but he felt that, as he was clever, intelligent and
unusually handsome, 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
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
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 – to be close to her and never leave 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
“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 woman.”
“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
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
“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
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.”
“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
“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
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 utilize 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,
“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
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
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
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 chiseled 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 traveling 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, next to Katherine and 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
“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
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
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
“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
“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
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
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 affected 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
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
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
“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.”
“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 handsome 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
“My brother.” Katherine said, tilting her head towards
“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
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
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 was 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.
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
“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
“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 inseparable – 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,
a dizzy sickness 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… 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
“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
“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
“I’m afraid I must wait here 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 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
“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
“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
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 reveled in
it for the few moments he stayed there.
Soon, after the commotion had stopped and all of the passengers fell
silent with the realization 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 or 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
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
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 unrecognizable, 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
‘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 easily passed 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
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.”
“You mean,” she continued, ignoring his last question,
“You are not happy to see me? We were to go to Paris together,
“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
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
“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,
“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
“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
“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
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, jewel-less, and a threat to
the master of the house. He remounted his horse and left the gates
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.