LIDKA JAHELKOVÁ’S SUNDAY
Lidka Jahelková was looking out of
the window at the street. It is the window of the red room, in the
middle of the first floor of the house.
Her house! Leaning out of it, she
was surrounded by it on all sides – her only possession and, at the
same time, burden that fed as well as oppressed her in the daily hunt
Again a Sunday, the clock in the
kitchen is just striking three, Lidka hears it and in her mind she sees
its white dial, the way she has known it since childhood. Always during
her prayers, kneeling by the cot, she would look at it and observe in
its decorative ledge a baby’s head, which was as if hidden among
flowers. Only recently, when wiping dust off the clock, she has found
out that it wasn’t a baby’s head but a white daisy – she has remembered
Her house is the last one in the
Jakubská street – somewhere here, just behind the house, the street
invisibly changes into the road – perhaps only the words change, the
road is the same, white with dust, with basalt gravel. It leads to the
mountains across the Mariánské forests. Close behind the house, at the
corner of lord’s garden, at the old lime tree, a dirt road suddenly
turns away from it, leading steeply up. This way, people go to the
"Little Rock", "behind the barns", "to the well" and to the "Goat
This way, dad and mom will lead
their offspring, the older the more revolting against these family
walks, this way Mrs. Kynčilová will ride her baby in a deep baby
carriage, everybody will ceremoniously march under Lidka’s window for
it is Sunday afternoon, the moment of hands folded on a plush cushion,
the moment that will time and again distress her with its strange
sadness, its dissatisfied evanescence.
Home alone – alone in the whole
house! The house door is locked – the Valnohas from the first floor
have gone as well, everybody, the whole town has gone on a trip, only
the old remained in their slippers and the ill in their beds – and
Lidka in the window.
Strange, sour-sweet is such a warm
Sunday when you rest. If you don’t expect anything in return for the
whole toil of the six days, except for rest, if you don’t look for
happiness in fellowship, laughter and songs. You smile melancholically,
unaware of it, and you hear only the song you are singing by yourself.
There is such a silence behind
your back – you turn round into the room and there’s emptiness, you go
to the kitchen and emptiness – nothing, nothing anywhere, only the
kitchen clock mercifully shortens this white Sunday idleness.
When Lidka looked on a week-day,
it was something quite different. Everything was at its place, standing
or going according to its rule, the boarders were coming and going,
doors were banging and plates clinking and from the room, the voices of
her tenant girls resounded. She felt pity for neither for herself nor
for the world, she was tempted to look out of the window, only for a
little while stolen in between work, – yes, to run around the house –
that was her week-day!
But Sundays – no, her house wasn’t
created for Sundays. Suddenly so much time! From all the five windows
she could look and still –
It’s already half past three. Now
even the last late-comers go – those won’t go far, only to play bowling
at the Goat Hillock.
Look, Mr. Šaffr, a former master
engraver, a pensioner with fair sideburns, who remains in the corner. –
Lidka will never forget how once in the window, half-naked, he was
splashing water from a sink on his hairy chest with a weirdly
ridiculous grimace for the little Lidunka – since then he has acquired
a completely strange meaning for her.
And now the Koliandr sisters go,
two spinsters, one doesn’t exist without the other. They look so much
alike as if they were walking in one person. Long, skinny, in white
empire-style dresses that rustle with memories of the first
confirmation. They make bobbin-lace but they carry their heads up,
towards new summers and winters – where has the sweet exchange of
seasons and exchange of joys and exchange of skirts gone!
The sisters are passionate
spiritualists, but only in order to call in their loneliness the shadow
of their mom. The older, Josefka, is a psychic, she’s the one who knows
when the mom is coming and immediately wipes the chair with her apron –
"sit down, mom – Lojzinka, mom is here –"
Now they are passing under the
window with their heads upright and they both saw her at the same time.
Lidka greets them with respect, the misses thank her with a single
joint smile. Lidka likes meeting and greeting them so much – they carry
together some secret – they have already gone by –
However, it is not necessary and
desirable to greet everybody – Lidka steps back from the window to save
herself from the curiosity of Madame janitor – how she has overdressed
today! Bent like a cane in a modern corset, she is heading with her
proudly lifted bust somewhere to the Goat Hillock, while her hips,
imprisoned in the silky bell of a gathered skirt, remain behind as if
pulled by something back to the square.
On Madame janitor’s head, a
massive straw hat with two "plumes" is sitting, impaled with long
needles like a monstrous butterfly. Mischievously, but also with a drop
of envy, Lidka looks at that crazy hat the husband has recently brought
from Prague in a huge round box, and which the whole female Javorek is
Look, how Madame janitor already
from distance observes the ramshackle house, hanging on the extremely
thin arm of painful sir janitor, who unsafely steps in his new creaking
shoes without laces! –
Lidka knows when it is better to
hide behind the small curtain and when it is not necessary. Others
come, walk past, unaware of somebody looking at them, – those will come
the farthest and Lidka accompanies them with her eyes as far as the
WHAT A PITY THE GRANDFATHER WAS
A postman dreams about letters, a
shoe-maker about resin and a gravedigger about corpses. Jeník, the
brother of Lidka Jahelková, often saw Krakonoš1)
in his dreams. There is nothing strange about that. Since their birth,
the children were surrounded by various "krakonošes".
Their granddad carved them and
stuck them together from mountain pine, bark and lichen, himself
resembling Krakonoš the most through his felt hat and beard like a
torn-out pillow of moss.
He sold them to good mountain
people that, according to the old custom, placed them behind their
windows, on kitchen cabinets and inside china-closets, recalling the
old myths about this capricious and a little mischievous mountain
Wood-carving has been inherited in
the Jahelka family since time immemorial. A half-brick, half-wooden
house with an extremely old facade opposite the cemetery used to be the
cradle of the Jahelka family. – People like recalling beautiful things
– and it was possible to buy a small reminiscence on the great Krkonoše
mountains at the Jahelka’s as a bargain. And the most conscientious
evoker of the old impressions, the arouser of memories and conspirator
of new plans was – the little god Krakonoš. He included both the
mountains and their name. A grey-haired forest chap with a wide-brimmed
hat on a hairy head, with a pipe reaching down to his knees and with a
martial beard – he looked perhaps exactly the same as that first
krakonoš that one day long time ago jumped out of the crude hands of a
primitive creator, who was dazzled by a fairy-tale vision.
Father Jahelka was in his youth a
rash and inconsiderate man. He constantly wanted to undertake something
but had more imagination than money. He has swung beyond his
circumstances. He got some money by marriage and didn’t hesitate to buy
a one-storey house in the Jakubská street. In its basement, he buried
both the dowry and savings. What is more, the house had neither a shop
window nor was there a direct entrance to the shop from the street.
To reach Jahelka’s krakonošes was
sometimes a very complicated operation. Above all, you had to go inside
the house along a hallway as far as the small yard, then turn right and
only close behind the corner two doors appeared in the half-dark.
The customer then held the handle
of the door bearing the sign: "To the shop". It was, however, always
locked. The only thing to do then was to open the next door a little,
or knock on it. Only then did father Jahelka come out of the kitchen,
on his head a cover that he had just accidentally chosen (no matter if
it was Jeník’s cap or one inherited from grandfather), he unlocked the
door and let the buyer enter.
None the less, sometimes it took a
long time and from the half-open kitchen, in the hallway one could hear
upset steps and clinking and father Jahelka’s grumbling.
"Where’s the key from the shop
gone? It hung here by the towel!"
"Mom, where do I got my glasses?
They gone again!"
In the production of memories and
souvenirs, however, father Jahelka was as conservative as an ant. He
did everything exactly like Jeník’s granddad, for he never doubted the
fact that such was and had to be the appearance of Krakonoš. He carved
them in the same way with resin-covered fingers he would smell as a
habit, he would clothe them in the same way in unbuttoned bark coats,
impress the same shape on their faces, wood-strict, soullessly stiff.
But still – what a difference
there was! Dad cut and stuck them skillfully but mechanically, without
interest, thinking of god-knows-what in the meantime, and he was always
in a hurry. It could have been anything else and in the end a krakonoš
hatched out of it, perhaps just because father Jahelka couldn’t do
But grandfather, man, – he wanted
to make krakonošes! He even took it in hand lovingly: "That’s a scent,
people, that’s a scent," – how he smiled at the time, how he frolicked
with it, how he delightfully looked at a good cut, like a sculptor on a
well-managed stroke of a chisel! When working, he must have been
reminiscing about the Krkonoše forests where he took his body, the bark
and moss he used to clothe him, the fairy tales and myths, according to
which he breathed in his appearance.
Little Jeník would often sit in
the kitchen quiet as a mouse and observed his hands and tools with
With pleasure would grandfather
smell the tips of his clenched fingers, always from the thumb towards
the pinkie of both hands – as they already even from distance smelled
of glue and resin.
Dad smelled too but it was only a
habit. But granddad’s fingers must have surely smelled nicer. Jeník
used to wish to smell them so much! Once he had asked grandfather for
that but he got angry and spanked him. And once when granddad was
asleep, the boy sidled up to him and quietly, very quietly brought his
little nose near his callous hand, which was placed as if forgotten on
the cover. And he was unpleasantly surprised when, instead of the
magical scent of woods and forests, he caught tobacco stench!
In the same way, Jeník was
attracted by the shop. He was allowed to enter it only rarely and only
with adults. –
The moments when he crept in there
alone, without his father being aware of it, had the charm of
omnipotence. The sudden release of hands as well as imagination – he
could touch everything that was on the counter and under the counter
and on the shelves by the wall. Holding his breath, he ascended the
ladder, the higher the file, the greater the danger, the bigger the
courage, the more beautiful things to see.
He always felt that he had found
what, up to that moment, he had been looking for in vain. The feeling
of fulfilled desire, the rejoicing at discovered treasures, the
satisfied curiosity of all explorers. – The star of amazement
accompanied him on his explorations always higher and higher – – –
How mysterious were dusks in the
room, moments between day and evening when it was too early for a lamp
and pictures were dying away on the walls and it was growing dark in
the gold-framed mirror. Then, grandfather was still alive. At dusk, he
would lie down on a black couch, place his left foot in a woolen
stocking in boy’s hands ("cradle my foot!") and begin to tell stories
If he was in good mood, he played
along and surprised the boy with the myths where Krakonoš figured as a
benefactor, a comforter, a provident provider of riches, an author of
jokes and dupery, always ready to frighten fearful neighbors, alarm
lovers, tease drunkards and fool misers.
There were days, however, when the
painful ankle used to become the most important place on the body of
old Jahelka and when not even the cradling in the boyish palms would
repudiate the obtrusive tongs of rheumatism.
Then, Krakonoš appeared in front
of the boy as a mischievous and angry old man, who punished thieves
without pity, denounced lechers, tore off an angry miller’s beard,
struck with blindness a farmer that had poked out swallows’ eyes, and
placed a red rooster on a money-lender’s roof. In those myths, the
boy’s sharpened sense of justice was being satisfied as far as the
stage of un-mercy.
Grandfather died and together with
him all fairy tales as well. Dad – dad and fairy tales, oh, come on!
Many times he tried as much as he could, but after a while he would
notice that the boy wasn’t listening to him. He simply wouldn’t find
the right words, he lacked an epic calmness, the thing grandfather
would win with when opening his myths with a marvelous illusory gate:
"In a royal seat in the
countryside there lived…"
Dad would, instead of lighting up
the child’s imagination, ignite distrust in him. Many times,
illuminated by the flame of self-criticism, he himself would blush in
front of the boy, for he felt he was lying.
Oh, what a pity the grandfather
was gone! His strictly closed mouth, disintegrated into dust, will
never again answer the boy’s questions…
How is it possible that he’d
forgotten to ask him why it is necessary to make long pipes for all the
krakonošes? It aggravated him that he didn’t ask specifically about
that when, after all, there was so much time before grandfather would
Or – an importunate and the
saddest of all questions, which tortured father Jahelka in the same way
when he would tumble in the bed in vain, roasted by covers as if on a
grill: Why do people buy our krakonošes so little? The shop is full of
them, they pile up on the cabinet, the shelf, in the windows – of all
sizes and prizes, from a precious material, collected on the ridges as
well as in the abysses of the Krkonoše mountains. And the buyer does
not come. Various checkered tourists with nailed boots indifferently
pass by the windows, strewn with moss, from which angular stick out,
smelling of heavy forest. In their rucksacks, they have various
souvenirs, bought in cabins, adorable trifles, pictures on wood, violet
stones, paperweights, small frames, slippers for the wall in which you
put your watch for the night.
First, father Jahelka thought: it
is not the season, we will wait for the scout spring – and then for the
sweaty summer, through which currents of tourists flew. Lately,
however, the influx of Prague citizens to the mountains across Javorek
had been constantly becoming thinner and thinner… They were avoiding it
with the great arch of the railway that would bring them comfortably
directly as far as under the mountain knees. And not many of those that
walked up under the windows of Jahelka’s shop claimed that they were
going to shop on the trip back. And those coming back had already done
their shopping. Why, why, why? Those were the torturous question-marks
that ate with his spoon and covered themselves with his duvet.
"Krakonošes have become
out-fashioned –," friends in the small town answered, indifferently
shrugging their shoulders and rushing quickly by his windows. Following
that, father Jahelka would have asked them anyway with a tortured face,
Naturally, Mr. Pošepný solved such
absurd combinations by himself for himself, he never mentioned them to
her. Only in his thoughts he amused himself when he was beginning his
Sunday walks or returning from them, not for the significance of the
matter but for its interest – and he would forget it immediately for
other ideas that would come along.
Today, when he was getting ready
for his first study walk through Javorek, he forgot Mrs. Róza as soon
as the door had clicked behind him. He was descending a little slope
the small town leaned on with its back part towards the north. In that
way, this bottom neighborhood under Temínko was somewhat hidden from
the eyes of random tourists – and, indeed, it did have all reasons for
hiding. It was, in fact only a single crooked street, on side bordered
by poor little houses and on the other with a stinky, almost waterless
stream. In those shacks, the poor lived. There were also several pretty
cottages with gardens; those belonged to the shoemakers, who would at
fairs form with their stands, full of boots, shoes without laces and
slippers, a whole long street in the square.
Mr. Pošepný crossed one of the
rotten bridges that connected this neighborhood with the town, and was
walking through an alley between two fences. On the way, he was
grumbling something and smiling at god-knows-what. He was most
garrulous when he was alone. That was his habit. He talked to himself
as well as to the things he was meeting, he could say what he wanted
and nobody laughed at him because of that. He was such an old child, he
loved things more than people. However great human brightness couldn’t
move his calm but simple things would always surprise him again and
again. People rather bored and saddened him; if he envisaged them, they
became puppets his imagination was moving with.
Look, one Sunday from a hundred of
other Sundays – a deserted town – houses he both knew and didn’t know,
– rows of windows, reflecting the afternoon May sky. Now it was talking
to him in his quiet nostalgia, yes, it was only the sky in these
windows that confirmed his sweet loneliness to him.
Of course, behind those windows
there are people anyway, god-knows-why a lot of people stay at home
even on Sundays, like Mrs. Róza. But he was dreaming: what if
everybody, everybody left, leaving doors wide open – and I would walk
through these houses. Open human dwellings, all the things and no man!
Void and emptiness everywhere, kitchens, rooms, bedrooms – and again,
and once more, paintings, tables, mirrors, couches of a thousand shapes
– a strange display, what the nature of human dwellings looks like. Not
the man but those thingies are so fantastic and still so touching at
the moments when the man leaves and they remain alone.
Or – such luck – night, and all
windows in the whole town are illuminated! Not only some of them, as it
always is – there is light over there, and there’s darkness next to it.
If one day such amazing luck overcame the whole town – no, the whole
world! To have light in all, really in all the windows! Jubilation in
all the houses, in all the chambers, in all the cells. Why – I don’t
know. But it should happen all over the world on the same day. Doors
open, you go from one apartment to another – everywhere the same,
amazing joy under the lit lights, people are hugging, weeping with
happiness and saying: Finally then, after all! We’ve lived to see it!
Oh, thank god!
Such a dreamer Mr. Pošepný was,
and he was dreaming like that all the way to the square. In the
archway, he would meet some walkers, bored, dawdling along in pursuit
of some tiny Sunday goals of theirs. Perforce he was pressed to concern
himself with them. They cast good-heartedly curious looks at him, which
he from exasperation reciprocated with even more intrusive curiosity,
if possible. They immediately detected the stranger in him for they all
knew each other in this small town. He understood the eye-speech of
these nicely clothed, curious and clever people:
"A stranger among us! What may he
want in our town? Who only could it be? Why might he have come here –
Well, we’ll see –"
Then his feet carried him around
the old cottages towards the brewery. There, under the staircase in the
cellar, Voleška used to stand with glossy lozenges and sugar "soap" –
and here grandma Terinka sold pickles and warmed up her feet on a pot
with hot coal.
And this is already Soukup street.
What "Soukup"? It is the "Curious Lane" and that’s the end of it! They
surely still call it that way nowadays. It runs widely up the hill.
Each cottage stands by itself and is somewhat moved by the facade from
its line towards the street, which is seemingly getting narrower up the
hill in that way. The side windows of the protuberant corners curiously
stare from the top to the bottom along the whole street. Even from the
last ones, placed the highest, there is a beautiful view almost as far
as the square. Whoever enters the Curious Lane from the sokolovna2), feels that the side windows of all
the cottages are aimed directly at himself.
Mr. Pošepný knows this Curious
Lane. He walks slowly upwards. Already at the very foothill, all the
small windows on both sides caught him in their nets. He felt on his
nose the intersection of those black searchlights, how they follow each
move of his, but he ascended resolutely step by step. In long, fixed
looks, he tried to penetrate the dark shiny squares of glass to
estimate the depth of their curiosity.
Nevertheless, the inquisitive
windows protected themselves against such a cheeky behavior with thick
curtains and Mr. Pošepný was disturbed by the mere guess of unknown
faces behind the glass, always irritated again and again with the
insatiable desire for knowing the world their slanted lane meant to
He reached the top and stopped
there. Inconspicuously, he inspected several last cottages on the right
side. Why, one of them – oh my god! – which one is it? All of them are
so unbelievably alike – and still – once – one of these differed from
all others in the world! He knew it like his mom’s face – or is there
anything else you can know better? But alas, the cottage had gone! Not
from the lane but from his imagination. Suddenly he stood perplexed in
front of a little cot and didn’t know: it is this one or not? Is it
possible that it had already completely effaced itself from his memory?
Oh yes, it is this one – he already recognizes it – it’s only been
rebuilt a little – yes, half-forgotten, half-rebuilt – but – that other
small cot standing above it is exactly the same.
Finally he found to his disgrace
and pity that he doesn’t recognize it any longer. Sixty years – oops!
Is it possible that they were composed of days that followed one
another, of hours and minutes, which flowed continually and without an
obstacle like waters, winds and clouds, like the moments of today?
At the hilltop the lane continued
but it was no longer the old, curious one. Several brand new villas had
germinated there with shy implications of the buds of a secession
Mr. Pošepný walked pensively on
the sidewalk along the garden fences. He met two ladies. A fat matron
and a beautiful girl, about sixteen-years-old, he looked at closely.
And suddenly he forgot himself – Oh my god! That was the proud beauty
he once used to secretly adore! At that moment he met the matron’s
eyes. A glimpse of astonishment, which immediately faded away in the
bloated face with a reddish nose, but for Mr. Pošepný it was enough.
Yes, it’s her – only not the girl
but that fat, wheezy one, in a black cotton bodice and with the face –
alas, what happens to the miraculous female face when her real
appearance eventually hatches out of it! Yes, this is the true face of
his princess, with a dewlap of lard under the manly chin, with a
shooting bottom lip and with blue protuberant, watery eyes. What used
to be – a mere deception and delusion of twenty years of age! She, in
fact, looked like that! The germs of her present appearance were
already present in her, already then when he looked up to her with
boyish astonishment at her beauty and pride. How he imagined in his
naive eroticism – to place a finger inside that mouth, that maidenly
proud mouth with a shooting lip – what pleasure, what amazement – and
this is how it turned out!
What now resembles his image is
not herself but this youthful heiress of her beauty and pride. It is
herself almost literally, and still – it is not her. Some strange,
unknown shadow made her already her mother’s daughter. Yes, she did
have a bit of her father in the face, that was the unknown!
That’s how Mr. Pošepný was
contemplating when they had already passed him, – and as usual he
reached follies whenever he occupied himself with people and not
things. Women, it is understandable, need men in order to give birth.
That’s why new and new human faces originate – infinitely. If women
gave birth only by themselves, without insemination, like, let’s say,
some low kinds of animals, their faces would repeat themselves exactly
in their children. And not only faces but also everything else, it
would, in fact, be them, literally them, the same people would be still
born, actually only women – yes, yes, there would be no men – and that
would be a pity – if only because of those puppets.
With pleasure, he remembered his
puppets – yes, there he was on safe ground – the thoughts of them
certainly wouldn’t lead him to such beguilement.
He was coming back and didn’t pay
attention to people any longer – what do I care about their present
Look, a new beauty princess – and
her other face next to her –
What came back to Mr. Pošepný’s
mind was the face of his princess Mordulína under a brass headband,
beset with diamonds – and he had to smile at that.
He rested firmly in his image on
the shape and appearance of his puppets. Those are safe. Time can’t
affect those – thank god!
I AM WITH YOU!
The news about golden marbles
spread throughout the whole town like wind blowing at a dandelion.
Nevertheless, it had an interesting response from the members of the
enlightenment society Krakonoš, which gathered once a week at the Big
Until recently, the society had
organized theater performances, lectures, trips and balls. It used the
profit to support needy pupils, it made contributions for to the poor
of the town and performed other small acts of mercy. According to the
articles, however, a part of its program was also "to keep the
tradition and memory of Krakonoš among the mountain folk". The biggest
goal of the society, a completely unattainable one, was to build an
above-life-size statue of Krakonoš in the middle of the square. Among
its smaller, though not less ambitious tasks was to neaten and improve
Little Rock and turn it into a natural park.
Little Rock – that was such a
rocky windfall in the middle of the fields under Goat Hillock. Rocks
and ravines and abysses somewhat miniaturized, overgrown with
raspberry, carline and wild thyme, which smelt nicely in the noon heat
among crumbling basalt. How holy were the names of the little flowers
growing there! Virgin Mary’s tears, Saint John’s flowers, yellow
slippers, god’s watch, Lord Jesus’ blood…
Once in the past, somebody tried
to mine stone there; now, at the bottom of the deepest gorge, old sinks
and pots and traps and sardine boxes were rusting. At the time of rain,
a pool formed itself there, which moved with a vermin of water animals
in summer – until the pots exposed themselves again. Boys fished for
them and banged them on the rocky wall, which returned them to the pool
Little Rock used to be the target
of afternoon walks. Tired bodies of lovers lay down in wild thyme, in
lovely deckchairs of thousand shapes, which smelled and tasted of a
Until nowadays, there have been
kept tales about Little Rock, that this was the place where the lord of
forests and mountains, Krakonoš himself, appeared and disappeared. That
allured to the assumption that it was specifically our small town that
he, in the times passed long ago, took liking to.
That’s why the name of such a
society in Javorek had its justification, and even as if almost some
higher mission. Its founder, Dalibor Španihel, an agent and linen
dealer, must have certainly seen it in front of him clearer than the
later generations of officials, in whose times the society was
The society met inertially at the
club table under the worm-eaten figure of a fusty Krakonoš (a antique
creation of Jahelka – great-grandfather), who used to be a forgotten
witness of beer debates, over which he grew old and deteriorated. He
lived to see even worse times, when a young surveyor Kavan was the
chairman, when they used to turn him "about face!" on his pedestal. The
purpose was that he didn’t have to look at the wild drinking-bouts that
were at the time taking place under both moral and financial patronage
of the master chairman.
At the time when our story begins,
when teacher Hanzl was the chairman, the club activity was in decline.
It actually limited itself only to rattling with a "moneybox", in which
there rattled voluntary contributions for building the sculpture of
Krakonoš, whose soulless face with a wooden remorse had already been
appearing in chairman’s dreams.
Those were the times of quiet
sitting, when they roasted for days and weeks an event of a kind that
seemed to be shaking the world, but it was shaking only the window
panes and glasses on the table tops.
In the same way as their daddies
had once waged wars on maps at jugs of beer, connected Slavonic nations
and divided foreign empires, also these prosperous descendants of
theirs starved for anything happening in the distant world, among the
nations of exotic names, in the states lying far behind oceans.
The small town itself was clear
and calm, neither in it nor around it anything was going on, the life
of workdays flowed with a wide silence, the May sky shining above it.
Sometimes, there were clouds passing above the heads from somewhere and
headed somewhere – they passed and passed over – and nobody noticed
them – how many people from the whole small town raised their heads
from the ground, how many people talked in the evenings about those
clouds passing above the town? They didn’t care about the heavenly
clouds and they were content like bugs in an ant-hill.
Until suddenly an unexpected wind
blew from the sails of the newspaper. The time of the Russian-Japanese
war came! Then, it seemed to them they were experiencing an event that
was going to change the face of the world and they were scared of the
days to come. The horizons were roaring all around, announcing the bad
times, and the safe distance of their pub from the Pacific coast
supplied their talks with courage and flight.
Did they then have the time at the
Big Goldfinch pub to cultivate the foolish, naive idyll about Krakonoš?
Only a madman could have come to the society with a suggestion for some
rejuvenation of the Krakonoš tradition!
And still – –
Immediately a day after the event
the golden marbles, a special meeting of the fellowship was called up
to discuss the matter. Who saw to it was the chairman himself,
professor Hanzl, the most surprised of all of them. He was a dreamer, a
soft, thrilled little man, who loved his mountains more than anything
else. He was in the Bohemian-forest mountains, in the Tatra mountains,
he knew the Beskydy Mountains as well as the Alps, he wandered in some
hills during every vacation but when returning, he would again and
again allow himself to be surprised by the unrivalled, unsurpassable
beauty of his Krkonoše mountains. After such tours of other mountain
ranges, he would always return for a little while at least to the
Golden Hillock and to Kokrháč. There, with tearful emotion he would
apologize to his native mountains for his aimless wandering. He knew
the paths he had tracked out by himself, which a living foot had not
walk on before, where he crept on tiptoe for fear he might frighten
away the beauty he stopped before in ecstasy, with wet eyes and chill
running down his spine.
With his own eyes, he saw the
poverty of those human swallows whose nests are stuck under the
mountain ledges, the poverty obstinately silent towards ground, after
even the skies had swept with last year’s storms from their little
fields the last handful of dirt and left them only a naked rock.
Professor Hanzl collected also folk art in the foothills, tunes and
sayings and fables, and he had been preparing a book about it already
for a long time. He believed at first that the mission of the
fellowship will be beautifully fulfilled in everybody’s cooperation in
the homeland study field, but he tried to arouse the club interest in
vain. They were enwrapped in politics and still sniffing with their
noses throughout the town to find out whether it stinks somewhere with
the scents of local events.
Only now did the glare of the
golden marbles dazzle all eyes – and that was the light professor Hanzl
needed for his society. What an opportunity to force his passion for
the mountains on these people, if not amicably, then with harm!
He was not too lazy to find Mr.
Pošepný. He talked to him face to face. He was excited. Yes, they are
really made of pure gold, the local jeweler, Mr. Matějáska, confirmed
that and wants to buy several of them. But, gosh, Mr. Pošepný, who
could have been that mysterious donor that, according to Emil Buďárek,
seemed to resemble Krakonoš? – Who? – Who else? Well, of course!
There was no free seat at the
corner table at the Big Goldfinch that evening. Mr. Pošepný came as
well, as an unusual guest. He talked cannily about his first walk
through the town and generally about everything he considered
appropriate. And the golden marbles went from hand to hand. How much do
they weigh? How much are they worth? Will their profit fall to old
Buďárek? But who could have been that?
Professor Hanzl took the floor:
"Gentlemen," he said, "I open the
special meeting today under the impression of the event that certainly
in a way concerns our society. I can see that you are smiling! Some
weirdo had the idea to play Krakonoš and did a good act. He endowed a
poor man and tore him out of poverty. None of us knows who it was, –
and neither will we learn it. I don’t dare to assert that it was
Krakonoš but I’m afraid to deny it… It depends on us whether we believe
it or not. Gentlemen! It is not my intention to convince you to believe
in fables. We are reasonable people and not children. Nevertheless, I
warn against volatile mocking of that occurrence. Who knows if it’s not
only a beginning of great events whose end I can’t speculate about!
You have the right, gentlemen, to
smile at that fable according to which Krakonoš used to appear at the
Little Rock because nobody will prove that to you any longer. But the
present time, so difficult for our mountain folk, who knows whether it
might have awakened their protector from a one-thousand-year sleep?
Yes, good spirits always appear when the times are the worst! Krakonoš
from our fairy tales, as we had understood them, is a righteous spirit,
socially, I would say… ! He rewards virtues and punishes iniquities,
takes away from misers and gives to the poor people. Gentlemen! – I
have already been despairing at his helplessness – and if he is
helpless, then he doesn’t exist at all! Yes, I said – Krakonoš doesn’t
exist if he doesn’t see this abhorrence! And he suddenly made himself
"Professor is riding his foal once
again," Mr. Bažantus, an educated son of the local grain wholesaler,
smiled with a compassionate understanding. His voice was characterized
by such an unusual color that there always arose some unpleasant
surprise when he started talking. It was a voice you can recognize
among thousands of others.
"Old Krakonoš, the spirit and
master and sovereign of the mountains we have already almost forgotten,
perhaps offended by this ingratitude, will suddenly send us to the
society his business card! That he hasn’t died yet, that he was only
asleep – and that he’s just pleased to awake! That he has just begun
his beneficent activity with the first miracle that had happened behind
the Water. – But, without jokes, gentlemen, let’s not make us
ridiculous! Let’s not look at this incident with our cheeks so burning
with excitement! Even though the name of our society is Krakonoš, it
does not mean that we have to deal with every trifle when this name was
uttered! The time is serious, I read a newspaper and I am informed
about everything, gentlemen! In Manchuria, mountains of corpses are
piling, the yellow slant-eyes want to advance as far as the Ural and
then… I’m just reading that a whole squadron of the Russian navy got
into trouble and was sunk by the Japanese! – One defeat follows
another, the czar throne is shaken – it’s boiling in Russia… There is
no time for fairy tales now, gentlemen, – use common sense!"
"You always frighten us, Mr.
Bažantus," dr. Pekárek, a new town doctor that had only recently joined
the society, exclaimed, "this is only my third time here but I already
know you a little. You either like to scare others or you are scared
"Have you read today’s Folk News?"
Bažantus came down on him, "and have you read the New Newspaper? If you
were so perfectly informed as I am – –"
"I don’t read any newspaper at
all," dr. Pekárek smiled, "that’s why I’m so calm and self-assured. I
know only that from our square to Port Arthur it’s further than 10 000
"A revolution doesn’t ask about
distances," Bažantus blurted out, "it jumps across borders like a red
rooster – from one roof to another!"
"Allow me, gentlemen, I ask for
the right to speak," from the opposite end of the table there exclaimed
a small, fat man with a surprisingly perfect face, almost classically
beautiful, if this image hadn’t been contradicted by a fair moustache,
whose hairs twirled over his lips, and then a long cheroot,
provocatively sticking out of his mouth. That was Mr. Šaver, the owner
of the local tobacco store. Šaver didn’t like the prominent voice of
this coward. It was certain that he was going to believe even in
Krakonoš’s marbles just because Mr. Bažantus doesn’t believe. Calm and
pink, he spoke very slowly and in the meantime he was sipping from his
cheroot like an epicurean.
"I imagined, gentlemen, this
society of ours quite differently – and I have already proposed once
that we don’t cultivate politics here at all! But you’ve subscribed to
it with your own blood like to the devil! I have had those golden
marbles in my fingers too. I hope I’m not a great fool but – how would
I say that? It would be lovely in our little fellowship if we all
suddenly believed! – Old Krakonoš is calling… Let’s give ear to him! He
is the mountain spirit! The people are whispering that he is going to
"Allow me, Mr. Šaver to interrupt
you," Mr. Lízr, the superior official at the tax office, butted in. He
sat faithfully at every meeting if he wasn’t in another pub at the
time. The fashionable moustache suited his olive, emaciated face much
more than the handsome but fat Šaver. Girls at the promenade, scheming
against his bachelor freedom, spoke even about demoniac character. The
only thing that hampered the experienced and informed speeches of Mr.
Lízr was certain circumlocution. He had, however, good tactics of
allowing his partners explain away so that he could eventually
interfere with his well-thoughtout opinion he wanted to be the decisive
"I don’t want to take your
illusions away," he spoke cannily for he was just having his third
beer, through which he was approaching the peak of his eloquence, "but
I can’t believe that somebody is serious about this. In my humble
opinion, this thing should be announced to the police, and that as soon
as possible – so that we don’t lose face. I don’t believe in spirits,
not even in mountain spirits! The only thing that matters is whether
the donor of the golden marbles gave them from his own sources or from
somebody else’s. You understand me – if it is not a booty or prey of
some modern Janošík of the Krkonoše mountains, for whose humane actions
there are paragraphs!’ Mr. Lízr’s throat dried out and he was finishing
his beer fast so that he could go on.
None the less, the chairman used
this pause and quickly allowed Mr. Pošepný to speak, which was
gratified by thanks. Mr. Lízr, however, immediately recognized the
intrigue and blurted out, swallowing the last sip:
"I haven’t finished speaking yet,
gentlemen! I would only like to add that I’m just as curious as you
are. That I would like to look this intriguer in the eye and ask him
what aims he was following and what he was up to."
Everybody already knew Lízr but
the old man inflamed their curiosity. He was a regular old man in
comparison with them, even though he looked so young and jaunty.
Something covert, unspoken, omniscient was trembling in the features
around his chin, which contrasted so much with the naive impishness in
his young, child-blue eyes. They knew that he was a native of Javorek
and that he had bought a cottage at Temínko. That allegedly mystery –
that was naturally his past, which was only going to be examined and
considered carefully, condemned by the hometown if need be, for it’s
impossible to be so arbitrarily born in Javorek, wander god-knows-where
and do god-knows-what – and then, at the end of life, come back again
and die without punishment at the birthplace.
"Dear friends," the old man began
– "it is very kind-hearted of you to have accepted me so amiably in
your circle when you don’t even decently know me. I am indebted for
that to those golden marbles, but even without them, trust me, I would
have joined the society whose name is so close to my heart. I have
never forgotten our mountains when abroad and it almost seems to me
that old Krakonoš decided to welcome me in such a way at my birthplace
when he led my steps over there under Temínko, to old Buďárek.
Gentlemen, when I was torn out of
this ground, my soul was only ten years old. But such a human seedling
will become already nicely rooted, with thin but the more passionate
roots, in the rocky dirt of our mountains. They tore me out violently
and replanted me, you understand how many roots have been torn and
those have never stopped hurting. Man will take root everywhere,
striking root again but nowhere and never again so sweetly and devoutly
and faithfully as in the ground where his seed was sown – I have never
stopped mourning the small roots of my youth, fed with the fairy tales
about the cruelly just mountain spirit, who is always nearby, no matter
if in the way of winds or clouds or storm, and who sends cloudlets from
Žalý above the town when smoking his pipe of good mood. You don’t
believe because you are already too smart and experienced and learned
and knowledgeable about the world – although at first sight you look so
young. You laugh at those tall stories for children and perhaps you are
already so wise that you don’t believe even in god – let alone in
Krakonoš! – If you knew me a little better, you would be surprised how
stupid and impractical and uneducated I am in comparison with you, and
how I carve knights and thieves from wood. You would stare at me with
surprise what ideas I have and what I’m occupied with when I’m home
alone! – When I accepted the invitation to your society, I was naively
imagining that I would find here a quiet little corner leeward for
relaxation. That you have shut yourselves here away from the wild and
confused prancing of people, that you loosen the pegs of your nerves
here, plucked by the skeletal hands from all possible newspapers. That
you have hung here above your heads the magic lamp of quiet dreaming
and waiting under the hundred years old witness of this symbol of
yours, that you talk about him, about that real master of thunder and
lightning, about the Krakonoš of your childhood, that you look up to
him and long and wait if he will soon descend the mountains, for it’s
– But you squabble, heckle each
other, as I have learned, just like the people outside. You don’t like
each other and each of you believes in something else, persuades
another and thinks god-knows-how important specifically his belief is
and how essential it is for others to believe it as well.
Somebody at the table suddenly
laughed – and that confused Mr. Pošepný. He still wanted to go on but
he broke off. It became evident that he had nothing more to say. He
finished speaking then. In the faces around there was reflected
astonishment as well as agreement and compassionate irony. Mr.
Bažantus, who with his relieving laughter in fact put the old man down,
began violently combating his opinions. What an idea, to shut oneself
away from the world at the present time, which is banging with its
armored fist on the doors of all human dwellings! It can explode in
Austria any moment and we will plug our ears here and cultivate an
idyll and wait for Krakonoš!
Somebody made a suggestion that
they sing and another immediately willingly started the first line of a
song as if he had been waiting specifically for that the whole evening:
"In the river Moldaaaau, a
At that moment, a bang echoed in
the window. Glass clattered and, at the same time, a rolled-up blind
bent. The curtain fluttered, strong wind burst into the pub.
Tablecloths billowed and deflated again. And a new bang! Krakonoš
tumbles down from his pedestal!
The strong wind stormed through
the pub and then blew out through the door to the bar-room. Somewhere
there a small door to the yard snapped like a shot.
A piece of paper circled in the
air and was slowly gliding towards the floor.
Everybody jumped up terrified.
When they recovered from their shock, it was all over – and it was done
in a few seconds.
Mr. Bažantus courageously pulled
up the blind. In the broken window there was nothing except a
quadrangle of darkness. Calm, deliriously fresh air blew in the pub.
Not even a piece of glass did
remain in the frame – the wind pressed out the whole pane. However, it
was again gathering way and roaring and preparing for a new burst.
But at that moment innkeeper Hrubý
was already there with the inside windows that had been taken out for
"What air, gentlemen, like
malmsey," he relished, which should have been an apology. He was,
however, silenced by the scorn, pouring on the cracked windows of his
pub. Let him one day finally make fire with that rotten wood, the old
miser! The window panes chatter in it behind the fallen-off cement even
when just a dog barks under the windows!
But that wasn’t the end of it all
While some were paying, Mr. Šaver
picked up from the floor the piece of paper that had earlier flown in
through the window. He turned it over, scanned with his eyes and –
turned pale. Without a word, he placed it on the table in front of the
professor. Heads piled up over him and curiosity turned into
astonishment. All of them were reading with unbelieving eyes:
I am with
It was written on a yellowed
paper, in old, crumbling ink and large letters:
The first to recover himself was
"The mystification continues!" he
cried out but others looked at him bluntly.
"What do you say to that?" almost
whispering, professor Hanzl asked the old man, who already had a hat on
his head and was taking his walking stick from the hanger.
Mr. Pošepný, it seemed, was the
most surprised of all of them. He took the note in his hand once more
and then he smelled it too. He said only:
"Gentlemen, you should establish a
Then he placed the note on the
table and quickly scurried
THE TIME OF FAIRY TALES HAS PASSE
"That doesn’t matter! But where
did he hoard that gold, doctor, that we would like to find out," Lízr
began screaming. "What devil’s hiding behind it!"
"Krakonoš, sir, Krakonoš!" Mr.
Šaver was shouting at the whole table, provoked by the extremity of
Lízr’s attitude so that he would himself provoke with the opposite
But his calling suddenly vanished
in the booming rattle of chairs as everybody jumped up from the table
at a blow. What had happened?
The old, rusty rose of the fan,
which hadn’t been used for a long time, with clatter fell down on the
floor. And from the round opening in the door, which had been bared by
that, a sheet of paper was slowly falling towards the floor.
"Krakonoš!" Mr. Šaver exclaimed
again and ran after the paper.
So many hands seized after it but
Mr. was Siřiště already victoriously holding it. Šaver wanted to snatch
it from him – and the sheet tore across.
"To the chairman! It belongs to
the chairman!" upset dr. Pekárek was shouting in the arisen confusion.
Only Lízr from the tax office did not lose his self-composure. He
jumped to the window, tore down the blind and knocked out both outer
wings into the street. Then he leaned out into the darkness,
illuminated in yellow by a kerosene lamp and a few poor little stars.
"Stop! Stop!" he screamed into the
street. Then he slammed the window and again pulled the blind down.
"I saw him!" he roared. "He was
running to the Church lane and there he turned round the corner."
"I don’t know. To all appearance
it was that Jahelka boy. I would bet my throat on that!"
In the meantime, professor Hanzl
put on his eyeglasses and placed the two halves of the paper together.
He was reading:
I am leaving for the mountains I
have come from.
Now I already know: the time of
fairy tales has passed.
I am stripping off Mr. Pošepný, my
The one you suspect of
p r e t e n d i n g to be Krakonoš is ashamed of living
You don’t believe anything any
more, not even fairy tales.
You are too wise and clever and
cunning, your brains are like over-fertilized ground, like an
overstuffed stomach. You know too much and that’s why you are so old,
not by your age but by knowledge. Each of you is not thirty but one
hundred years old!
I wanted to make from children
again from the peevish people, to put children shoes on the world…
It will no longer be so grey and
hopeless under the always same spinning wheel of seasons, when miracles
What, is not our country beautiful
enough for fairy tales to take place there? –
What, won’t it be then even more
I will return one day when all
people will be children. When instead of deadly serious faces they
perform their offices and bear titles and count gold leaves with –
young innocent laughter will come on lips, laughter at work that will
be merry and thrilling as a child’s game.
Then every man will be a child and
a poet – and all the inventions of the world will become toys…
Then I will come. –
Notice: I give the house I used to
live in to the poor people from our mountains. Let the profit from the
treasure be used for its keeping. I leave the puppet theater to the
Sokol club and the library to the Krakonoš society. Give the toys at
Christmas to the poor children from the cottages where looms clatter.
I ask professor Hanzl to put this
will of mine into practice.
I love my mountains!
He finished reading. The
eyeglasses themselves tilted on his slippery nose and went down on the
thread on his tummy. He silently look around with wet eyes.
For a moment, there was silence.
"Hm," Mr. Lízr from the tax office
said, "that’s not a bad joke."
"And was he a bad man?"
"Perhaps not, after all," he
admitted. "But a child, a complete child, – the one he is writing
Professor nodded his small head in
agreement. That’s how it is!
An old child, amazed at the vision
of his childhood he had not recovered from up to the present date. He
could not, didn’t manage to grow old. His heart is still
fifteen-year-old. The wisdom and experience of adults – that’s nothing
for him. – After all, he had been to that cottage at Temínko and had
learnt his secret: he would go to wash away the wrinkles bestowed to
him by the years of human intercourse to his magic chambers, to his
puppets and Christmas drawers and fairy tales about Krakonoš. –
"A madman," Mr. Bažantus figured,
"he wanted to surprise, to arouse astonishment. But how could he get us
with such a trick! What, are we small kids?"
"But he precisely wanted us to be
like small kids," Šaver was whispering for himself. "To remain kids
"A pleasant journey, Mr.
Krakonoš," dr. Pekárek ended ceremoniously, "and good-bye! Come again!"
"But still," Bažantus whistled,
skeptically examining the handwriting, "I would like to know who that
man is and where he had in fact come from…"
"Upon my soul!" the professor
called with a voice raised above all doubt: "He came from the mountains
and he is – Krakonoš!"
is a typical character of the myths and fairy tales of the Krkonoše
"Sokolovna" is a typical village building in
Bohemia and Moravia, a club center of the Sokol (Eagle) sports
fellowship, a place for both exercise and cultural events (cinema,
dance…), often accompanied with a pub.