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Archive 2

THE HANDSOME SON (Continued from Part One))
by David Payne

Riding through the plains of northern France, the handsome son realised the importance of this day. A small salty tear rolled down his cheek as he thought of how, on this September morning, his father allowed him the life of a man for the first time.
The carriage, led by his father’s driver, continued through the plains of Germany – through Frankfurt and Weimar. The son felt warm knowing that the old driver would accompany him on his first solo journey. It was in Gera, Germany that the son was surprised to find the driver 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 for him.

The young man skipped around the German square, so uniformly cobbled, waiting to greet the caravan with virile delight. Soon, evening faded to night and the young man decided to find 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 man after his inquiries to a hotel on the square where he was given a room and a chest for his clothing. The young man paid the clerk, locked his room and pulled the chest on his mattress where he soon fell asleep.

The bed was soft and he slept well. He was offended, however, upon waking, that there was no coffee served. After walking about the confines of the hotel, in sleepy morning confusion, he scolded the clerk and ordered him to fetch coffee. The young man’s German was good enough to scold. He complained until the man went to find some beans. 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 clerk returned, two wagons pulled up and summoned the son. Hurriedly, he jumped in a rickshaw following up the 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 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 – the young man’s trading papers. But, wisely, he did not hand the papers until making sure with a glance that the new caravan was on the other side of the border waiting for him. The officer handed them back in the usual way and the young man approached the wagons, rickshaws and carts of the Bohemian caravan.

The most beautiful rickshaw was to be his – the last one in the line. When he tried to open the door of the oak, two-man rickhaw, interrogations began by the parties smoking pipes atop a wagon.
"Wasn’t it to be a man?" a Slovak voice questioned as the young man presented his papers.
"It’s a pleasure sir." The driver of the third coach said upon realising that the young man was indeed the awaited jewel trader.
The young man returned to the rear and opened the rickhaw door. There was another sitting in the deep red cushions.
"Bon apres midi!" the young man said loudly, realising 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 the young man to enter. "Ah! I remember you." He cried.
"Have you got anything to drink?" the young man asked.
"Some brandy." The large figure began to pour from the bottle into a new tumbler. The young man was not interested in the tiny glass he was handed. He tossed the little tumbler back in the other man’s lap and reached into the compartment for the bottle. The young man pulled the cork and drank the remainders.
"Where’s your father this trip?" The man, who introduced himself as ‘Ivan’, inquired.
"In Greece." The young man, who introduced himself as Salvador, replied.
"Without his papers?" reinquired Ivan inquisitively.
"He’s there on pleasure… where are your papers?"
"What are you talking…" The young man interrupted Ivan mid-sentence, "Draw the curtain it’s dark and I don’t know you – might have to draw my knife."

The young man played with Ivan – threatened him a bit, until he took the curtains apart. The incoming sun revealed the figure of Ivan to be large and stocky, carrying a hard-boned, Slovak face. He was not much older than the young man – maybe five years. The young man remembered Ivan from his last journey to Bohemia. It was around the young man’s sixteenth year. He remembered Ivan to be polite and helpful, honest – a bit over-instructive. It was because he had been instructive that the young man decided to be a little condescending – 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 above the Crillon?" Ivan asked.
"I haven’t live in Paris for years… I live in Spain – 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." The young man said proudly, "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," replied the young man, "I have my own papers, which, in fact, supersede my father’s in privilege."
"At your age! That’s amazing," laughed Ivan mockingly.
"That brandy was quite stale, don’t you have anything else?" Demanded the young man.
"Some absinthe." Said Ivan, handing the bottle to the young man.
He didn’t appear fond of the young man, but as his host he was required to feign affection. 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 the young man 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 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 less than an hour. The coaches and wagons round 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 always 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 several beautiful jewels in return for the favour.

A large and beautifully faced woman led this new entourage and approached Ivan. She spoke in a robust German voice and claimed that the feast had finished preparation and the guests were waiting to begin.
"Good, I’m starving." Agreed Ivan. "How do you feel my lad? Are you ready to eat?" he said, nudging the young man.
"There will be plenty of time to eat on this trip." Replied the 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."
"I’m afraid I’ll be going now." The young man affirmed, climbing in the rickshaw and ordering the driver, out the window, to commence."
The little oak cart immediately left Ivan’s courtyard. Ivan was upset 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 ordered 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.
"Hmmm, I guess the markets are closed for the night." Affirmed the young man. "Oh, well, I’m famished – let’s go eat."

Ivan and his group cursed the young man silently and reboarded their coaches to head back to the palace atop the hill.
From the Bohemian skyline, the entourage could be seen marking up the hill like a little brown trail of insects crossing a plain. When the group rearrived, the courtyard was absent of festivity and greetings. Quietly they marched inside, clicked off their boots and entered the anteroom where dancing and drinking was taking place.The young man was introduced as Salvador to the crowd and everyone was excited to get their turn to make acquaintance with the handsome son.

Rather than mingling and showing an interest in the strange faces in the room, the young man insisted that dinner be served.
He was quite pleased with the meal. His garnet bracelet dipped in the thick sauces as he helped himself to more potatoes and soybeans. A pretty girl was seated beside him and she kept saying, "Salvador, please eat my bread, you need it more than I do." She was flirting with him and her hand kept feeling the patterns of his clothes as she asked questions like, ‘where was this made?" When she felt the pearls on his necklace, the gossamer thread broke and the pearls fell asunder to the floor. The young man grabbed for them and the pretty girl handed him some. Her face lit up with romantic delight when she handed him a blue pearl and he handed it back. She was expecting to keep it, however, he resnatched it out of her hand and, placing it on his tongue, swallowed it.

This was his usual behavior with young ladies. He had the wealth to offer them lavish gifts but he felt, as he was clever, intelligent and unusually handsome, that he didn’t need to offer any gifts or other affections to win the company of a woman. The pretty girl resumed eating her food. She was pouting a little bit after the young man’s exhibition of selfishness but every once and a while during the remainder of the meal, she would play with him to show that she was still interested.

After the meal, the guests returned to the anteroom to listen to the music and dance and drink. The young man remained at the table, smoking a pipe for a few moments, and then he joined them. This time, he was a bit lighter in spirits and he walked about the room talking to people who gathered near the walls.

After he was thoroughly bored with the talk of every guest standing near the walls, he sought out Ivan. Ivan was immersed in conversation with a lady, who, though he could only see her from behind, looked very alluring with finely cropped golden hair and a pleated rose dress. He approached the couple but was not noticed. The lady had her back turned and Ivan did not take his eyes from her face. She was almost a tall as Ivan – who was already very tall – and when the young man stood behind her, he could barely glance over the top of her head.

He was now standing very close but Ivan would not look up to take notice of him. The young man – on a whim – took a pair of haemostat-like tools from his dinnercoat 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 yelled out, with a smile, "You seem to have a distaste for pearls this evening, Salvador."
When Ivan noticed that his lady friend was undauntingly furious, he too grew angry and said, "I believe you have done this lady great harm. You had better spend the remainder of the evening repairing her necklace."

The young man took no notice of these words. Instead he bent to the floor and retrieved one blue pearl from beside Ivan’s foot. He then kneeled beneath Ivan and, pressing the pearl into his hand, said, "This, my dear host, is the first token to repay your generous hospitality."

Before Ivan could speak the young man stood, and bowed to the lady. He then looked at her face, which was unusually well formed and beautiful. She was pretty in not a cute way, but an undeniably beautiful way that caused the young man to grow shy and even reconsider his previous action. Meanwhile, Ivan was fuming with anger. He wanted to ring the young man’s neck but before he could take any action, the young man disappeared through the crowd into an adjoining room.
The young man found himself in a small and lavishly comfortable velvet room where he was alone – except for three people sitting on red cushions talking and a fiddle player, who was playing a slow Russian ballad in the minor key.

The 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 couldn’t discern their faces. He was interested in other people. Not so much in what they said, often people would talk to him for a half-hour and the young man wouldn’t care to remember even a word of it. He was more interested in how they looked. He would muse to himself about strangers – what they wore and the forms of their faces – inventing stories about who they thought they were and what they did with their lives.

After the fiddle player stopped the ballad, a mandolin player and a man with a small drum climbed raucously into the room and the three started a new tune – this time a very loud piece. The young man was forced to make room for the new musicians and he stood and took a seat on the cushion adjoining the places of the three talkers – who were now, due to the loud music – facing forward and silent.
The young man then noticed the girl in the middle of the two men. She was apparently Jewish, with long black hair and dark eyes – a natural beauty with innocent charm and full feminine lips and cheeks. Her eyes were as wide and bright as two full moons and the young man grew very interested. This feeling bothered him because he almost never experienced it and he, suddenly, only cared about this strange girl – being close to her and never leaving her side.

The men on her side looked identical to one another. They even wore almost identical outfits – 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. The men’s eyes seemed to hang over their faces about to drop.

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 fitting on her body. The identical men’s faces were also pale, yet in a horrid way that looked sickly against their cropped red hair. The three only sat, facing forward, silent for a moment before the identical men turned and began yapping into the girl’s ears, loud enough to cover the music of the band.

The young man usually introduced himself happily 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.

The young man 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 was beside the young man, waking him with warm affection. The young man looked around. The lovely girl and the two horrid twins were still next to him on the cushion talking. The band was still there playing, yet the song was quiet enough for talking over. Ivan began speaking first, "My dear lad, do you realise that that gorgeous mademoiselle 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 your in country, our aristocracy puts more importance in beauty than in blood. That is why many of the plain ladies from good Bohemian families have moved on to Vienna or Berlin. We welcome all the lovely people from North-western Bohemia. Even the Slovakians are welcome here - as long as they are charming and witty. Some times we have more young ladies here than we do horses in the stable. See! It’s a wonderful place for a young man like you or me to bide our time."
"Tomorrow, I’ll invite the lovely woman back for some sport in the garden. You can then make amends with her."
"May I ask? Why exactly are you interested in a reconciliation – or for that matter, even an initial meeting, considering I’ve never spoken to this women."
"I’ll be honest…." Ivan said. "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 thought about things and I realised that you are indeed very interesting. 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…." The young man returned.
"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?" 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 intend to do. She will never give her heart to anyone – neither, I will add, will the woman from earlier."
"Well, I will admit that the both are nice-looking, but why do you keep speaking of these women? I have come for jewels – for money and conquest."
"But this, my lad, is a feast and we never speak of such things this late at night – except of course when we are gambling. I still have about five years on you, so do let me teach you a few things."
The young man took Ivan’s hand off his collar and, pretending to ignore Ivan’s last comment, began to speak. "The women from earlier, her name…"
"Aurelle" Ivan offered, "…is her name."
"The woman 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 lovely girl’s direction."
"Then I," The young man insisted, "have a few things to teach you… for you spent the entire evening speaking to another woman."
"As I said before, these two ladies are, no doubt, the finest in Bohemia – perhaps in all of Europe. Of course they know this and are in dreadful competition. They are both worthy of marrying any rich, powerful man. What is interesting is that they have never accepted a proposal from anyone – and many have proposed."
"Hmm, so they are snobs. Nothing interesting there." Said the young man.
"As I said, they are in competition with each other – that is their only interest. They care little for men. All purposes behind their flirtations are to win the sole affections of the Prague aristocracy. When a man chooses one over the other, the chosen one triumphs."

The band was now disassembling and it was necessary for Ivan to speak quieter so the lovely girl in the room would not over hear.
"The night is winding down, my boy." Ivan said, "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 lady beside you."
"Oh." The young man said, feigning indifference. "So you love Katherine," The young man began again, "But you flirt with Aurelle so that she will love you?"
"Exactly!" Ivan confirmed.
"Then what? You can never leave Aurelle’s side for that of Katherine’s because then the latter will have won and she will no longer need your affections… for she will have achieved what she was seeking."
"A delicate balance, my boy. If I play it right, I can marry them both."
The young man laughed. "Well I must say, I care about 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 celibate and available. But if you want to win her you must play the game I have just explained."
"Well I won’t be playing any games… as you know, I must leave Bohemia by Tuesday – lest I lose my trading papers and my fortune."
"Plenty of time, my boy. Besides, as I have said, Aurelle too is French and she will be returning to Paris soon - even sooner if you utilise the charm that I know is in you."
"This talk is getting dull." The young man yawned, "Have 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." Ivan concluded.
The two identical monsters 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.
"Guten Nacht, Ivan"
"Oh Katherine wait… will you be joining us tomorrow?"
Katherine then turned to the young man. "When do you leave Salvador?"
"Tuesday morning."
"That’s very early, well I hope to see you tomorrow."
"Indeed, I will be here."
"See you tomorrow, Ivan." Katherine said kissing Ivan’s cheek. She turned back quickly with towards the young man and offered her eyes, with a blush, as she left the room.
The young man woke earlier then the rest 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 carts. The young man strayed from the bridge to walk the streets a bit. He entered the Jewish quarter where the synagogues were beginning to gather crowds. 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 he could drink coffee. The smell around the café was putrid – that of rotten vegetables or eggs. It was hardly tolerable. The young man asked the barmaid what caused the smell and she said that some new houses were being built with a technique that used whole eggs mixed with the lime and mortar. "The eggs will make the stone strong enough to withstand all future wars." The lady claimed.
When the young man returned to his rickshaw, the driver was sitting on the edge of the bridge sketching pictures. They smoked together and after, the two returned up the hill, by the castle, to where Ivan lived.

Everyone was in the back garden when the two returned. They were drinking coffee and beginning a game that looked like the French game of petanque. It was actually a game that began in Bretagne. The young man was forced to play it with his parents during their vacations to the coast in the summer. A rather dull game, it consists entirely of throwing metal balls across the yard for hours. The young man was only eight when he was first taught the game. His family would travel to Finistere every summer to visit relatives and the whole group would picnic on the beach and play petanque. The young boy would always run away unnoticed mid-way through the game and pick crabs on the shore. This was his favorite thing as a child – 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 in the closet. He planned 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 young boy would go out to the garden and bury his pets. Later trips to the Bretagne coast would be consumed by the boy’s interest in digging up the garden to find the bones of the crabs buried years prior.

Ivan was jumping around like a boy of twelve when the young man entered the garden. The 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 girl from the previous night, but she was nowhere in sight. He was not hungry. neither was he interested in the game. He sat down at a bench that was warm – catching the autumn sunlight – and tried to read a book that was in his pocket. Later in the day, fully aware that Katherine had not arrived, the young man began to feel sick with the burden of pleasures lost.

He thought of how miserable Sundays were in Paris, though and, feeling the warm sun on his face, he decided that he was really happy to have made the journey – his first alone, truly alone – and he felt this freedom and, after finishing his third glass of absinthe, went for a walk in the streets around the castle.

When he returned to Ivan’s estate, the young man was nervously excited to discover that both Katherine and her much less interesting, competitor, Aurelle, were gathered in the garden around the tea table.
The young man remembered Ivan’s silly, half-drunken talk from the night before and before disregarding it, 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. That’s a bit silly.’ He mused on this while the newcomers took notice of the important guest and gathered around to ask questions about how he found his previous night’s stay on the estate and how it felt to be in a region as beautiful as Bohemia.

He answered all of these questions more courteously than he would have the previous night. He felt more complacent in the midday sun that was then upon his face. He also felt closer to Ivan then after the two had shared their thoughts the previous night. 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 into the horizon. Even in the Bois surrounding Paris 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. He would often sit up in the pear trees there and make up little songs. He dared not sing them aloud, lest his father heard them from his nearby office, however, he would make them up and mumble them softly to himself.

The young man and the tall young lady walked around the pond talking together, comparing their lives, the places they originated 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, which the young man had destroyed. He was glad that she never brought it up. She was a very pretty lady yet there was something about her face that kept the young man from feeling any attraction for her. In fact, there was something repelling about her and even though 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 Slovak features that were perfectly symmetrical, yet suddenly very unappealing to the young man. He had never liked 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 strolled his feet in the water. Aurelle did the same after some hesitation. Finally Ivan approached from the thicket and, after beginning to call Aurelle back to the game, resisted, wished the two a pleasant time and said 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 affectionate towards him. He realised 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 the natural way when a woman is so forward. He thanked her and kissed her cheek. He almost made the mistake of giving in to her wishes and reciprocating the vow – he resisted in the end. 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 the 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.
The young man, however, could not easily think about the jewels in the market place – not after he had set eyes on the young Miss Katherine. Katherine, however, belonged to Ivan and his entourage and there was no good in obsessing about a woman when he was travelling hurriedly on important business.

The sun set early that autumn 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, 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 asked, "Don’t you ever go home?"
"You want me to leave?" Katherine replied.
"No, but I don’t understand why all these Germans, Austrians, French 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 town of Weimar and I prefer to spend as much time as I can here… unfortunately, I will have to go back this Thursday."
"I’ll be passing through Weimar – but I leave Tuesday – it’s a pity you can’t ride with me."
"Can’t you stay until Thursday?" Katherine asked with hope in her voice.
"Afraid not… my trading papers will be revoked if I don’t pass the border by Tuesday night."
"Strange business you’re in… but I’d like to go back with you – even all the way to Paris. It sounds like a beautiful city."
"Actually, it’s 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 leave."
"There is no reason to leave. You can swim in the sea throughout the year; your body will become bronze from the sun your mind will be clear and strong and you will find a happiness that you have never known."

The young man continued to speak and Katherine listened, charmed by his stories of the southern countries. She then spoke about her life in Germany and her hopes for the future and the two grew soft in spirits together and truly happy on that rare autumn night in the ivy laced, Bohemian garden with the moon steady over the stones of the courtyard walls.

The young man worried about being too affectionate, for, as Ivan told, Katherine was his love and Ivan promised the night before that he would go to any length to win her. The two young people, 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 though. 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.
The young man fell off the wall. He had been pushed by Ivan. Ivan was stepping into a role like that of the young man’s old school friend, which wasn’t entirely welcome considering that the young man was in Bohemia on business and he didn’t really look forward to making friends, or lovers, and leaving them behind in the fertile 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 fell 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." The young man promised, "You just have to understand that I’m not here to win anyone – I’m here to win a fortune, that’s all."
"My dear Salvador," Ivan continued, "I’d rather not continue in these word games with you. As your host and, I feel, a new friend, I think I can share with you information on a clear level – without fear that you will repeat my confidence to others nor use it against me. I do not say that as one who is suspicious, only as one who has seen the truth become twisted, resulting in an ugly mess of gossip and misunderstanding. Misunderstanding is my only fear. I do, I am certain, feel that we are on a level of confidence. I just hope that if you feel confused by anything I say, you understand that it is a simple miscommunication and with a few questions asked and answered between us, we can clear any matter up."
"I have not felt there to be any word games between us." The young man contested, "I have offered myself to you as clearly and honestly as possible… now do tell me what you are talking about."
"You’re aware that I seek to marry Katherine. It is for this that I pay such attentions to Aurelle as I do." Ivan lied, "If I were to openly propose to Katherine, she would no doubt refuse."
"Not if she truly loved you…." The young man 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." Ivan lied again, "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 in Prague as the most desired woman. 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 in love with you and ask to accompany you on your journey to Spain. Katherine will show no further interest in you and come Tuesday, 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 young man lied.
"Then simply leave Bohemia this Tuesday and send for Aurelle when you reach Frankfurt. 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.
(Back to Part One)

© David Payne (Continue to PART THREE)

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