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A Handsome Son (Bohemia) Part One
by David Payne - a tale of fine jewels and vanity -

His cane was tapped with the garnets of Bohemia and proudly it danced between his boots as he peered through the courtyard trees – waiting for people to pass between them so he could whistle out to their figures. After several minutes of standing there, he was called into the office of his father. A large, tobacco coloured map of the world was hung above the desk and beside it was a lamp shining down on the desktop and his father’s old hands.

The young man entered, tapping his cane lightly on the marble entryway. He was then silenced by his father who was reading quietly over some papers. The young man looked out the window and watched the late-summer sun fold over the willow trees in the courtyard.
His father had laid out his trading papers. This he never did; in fact, he never took them from his desk safe except for when he was travelling – for these trading papers were old, decorated and the only of their kind.

His father’s papers took him all over the world, to the coves of the Sierras, to the ruby markets of the east… to Barcelona and to Constantinople.

The old man’s papers were undeniably the most decorated in Europe – perhaps in the world. He was the only jewel trader in Paris, for instance, allowed to the buy and sell the glorious rubies of Burma. And it is this example which brought him to fortune and widespread respect.
He was known in the great mansions of the Parisian aristocrats, for the jewels that glimmered on their spoons had coursed through his hands. He supplied every gem for the hotels on the Place de Concorde, as well as for every bank office on the Grand Boulevards.

His son walked assured and proud through his youth, for he new that this was to be his throne, and a glorious one it was.
"To all of your wishes, I have acquiesced." His father spoke calmly with no disdain. "I will, however, not be making a voyage this autumn and I expect that the procession will be taken up by you in my place."

The young man did not speak, for he knew he would choke on the nervousness in his throat. He looked over the papers quickly with his father. He then thought of bargaining until his father agreed to let him travel to Greece. But he knew that it was necessary to go to Bohemia and thought twice about showing fear or stupidity to his father. He wanted truly to gather the papers and leave the office for this was an uncomfortable and important occasion. Soon enough, however, he was asked to leave so his father could attend to other matters. With a handshake, the young man joked that he would return with all of the emeralds in the Urals – even if it took four years. His father did not smile; instead he gave his strong look, which said that no deviation from the plan would be tolerated.

His father was extremely serious. He always followed the codes of morals and laws of the particular region or country he was in. This is not to say that he wasn’t brave. He always took the most dangerous option – considering it was to his benefit. But when confronted about his actions, he always replied in undaunted honesty. He took the consequences for his strange behaviour. But instead of his unorthodox actions causing him grief and social unrest, they created a path for him in which others seemed to follow. His father would often do something absurd; and when others looked at him as if he had committed a wrong, he would look back with these eyes and this heavy brow that said, ‘This is the new way! Do you object to progress?’ …and people would back away and be silent.
It is for this that his father gained the highest success as a jewel trader. It is for this that his trading papers were the most decorated in Europe. For the laws governing the commerce of gemstones is strict. Even with the most privileged papers. For instance, no trader was allowed to remain in a foreign market for more than a few days. The papers also governed the amount of gemstones, which could be imported, the sum of money that could be spent on one voyage as well as the kinds of stones, which could be purchased. Burma was one of the strictest markets. In fact its borders were closed to traders until just a decade before the young man’s father became a jewel trader. The first traders allowed in to Burma were only permitted to return to Europe with 1 Kg of rubies. They were also only allowed to remain in the Burmese markets for three days. These regulations made it impossible for the traders to make a profit. They could easily purchase rubies in Paris for less than it cost to retrieve them from Burma. Because of this they began to smuggle other jewels through the border as well as falsify the dates stamped on their papers. Finally the early trader’s papers were revoked. The young man’s father was an exception. He never remained in a country longer than was permitted. He also resisted the common practices such as hiding opals beneath amber. Years ago, border officials would check his parcels. This occurs with every trader, for the border official who finds expired papers keeps them. Every eastern border guard’s dream is to retain illicit gemstones, for they may be worth more than his whole life’s salary. Most border guards would even prefer to seize the trader’s papers rather than a simple lot of jewels. For the papers would ensure him a more lively and affluent career than his current position. There were no authorities to see to it that the papers and jewels were accounted for upon seizure.

Border officials were switchy and outlandish men – just one step above common bandits. They would rob every passer-by of his freedom and possessions if the border crosser didn’t have his armed entourage.

Every trader passing a border, whether it was between Poland and Austria or France and Spain, was dependent on his entourage. If the trader remained in a country too long, and tried to pass with expired papers; the border guards would certainly catch him. The trader would then look around for his entourage, only to see them disappearing over the foreign horizon. Why would they remain faithful by his side only to be arrested? Their have had been many traders who attempted to pay off their entourage in jewels for the capture of the guards – and everytime the result is the same. The trader arrives at the border only to be turned on and ransacked by all – for an entourage is made up of political men, and political men are known to follow the rules even when they surpass all morals. They will take part in a massacre as long as their country is behind them.

So you see the tediousness of the trader’s position – and what skill and knowledge of human behaviour it requires. It is because of the young man’s father’s firm conviction in speech and action, coupled with his fearless honesty that he reached such fortune in the business. After just a few years in the trade, border guards ceased searching him at the frontier. It is common knowledge that his father could have walked freely with an illegal quantity or type of jewels. It is common knowledge that the border officials must have let him pass without an uproar – for the father’s entourage was as faithful as a family and they would stand beside him. Still, the young man’s father complied with the morals and laws of the particular region he was in at a given time.

His son, however, with his dandy dress and wandering eyes, glittering as asterious as the diamonds on his belt, was an opportunist and all the while - skipping past the courtyard, stabbing pommes and poires with his cane, kicking open the gate and summoning the carriage – he thought of how he would travel to Bohemia and return with an obscene amount of the finest emeralds and garnets available. He mused on bringing back the head of the border official studded with sapphires. While in the carriage, however, he looked again at the trading papers his father entrusted to him. They felt as old as sandstone. They held stamps from 28 countries. They were the most valuable trading papers in Europe. He knew he must safeguard them. For if he passed the border even one day late, the guards would most certainly seize them. This would mean the end of his father’s and his career. His father would never again respect him with even the most disdainful glance.

To be continued

© David Payne


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