"Heavens!"/Chapter 1

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HEAVENS!

The sky looked as if it had been swept; so cloudless, clear, and transparent. The sun in the midst of it, burning with delight and bliss; as well he might be, for he had just accomplished a grand piece of work! He had tripped the earth of her sad widow’s weeds, and adorned her for his bride.

There is not much use in dipping your pen in ink, for you will never be able to write down all the thoughts and feelings that come swarming up, treading on each other’s heels.

It is the second half of May, the time of the sweet lily of the valley, of syringas, of the horse-chestnut, of finches, thrushes, blackbirds, and—I don’t know what besides. It is a litany without end; you cannot sing it out.

Spring writes its own poem on earth’s face with flowery letters, and sings it with the skylark’s notes aloft in the skies. So let it be; let us not interfere.

From Záluz̓í to Suchdol (Drydale) a footpath leads of more than an hour’s walk. It winds along through fields, groves of hazel, beech, and underwood, down a slope to a meadow; on further to a brook; then through more fields and meadows to Suchdol . Goodness knows why it was ever called so! For dale there is none, but a plain as flat as a floor, and in the village there is nothing particularly dry , except perhaps the chimney-pots.

The rich verdure of the orchards is dotted with countless blossoms, and through the verdure and bloom the venerable thatched roofs of the cottages peep forth like mushrooms from among the moss, while the red tiles of the priest’s residence and schoolhouse, and here and there of a more recently built farmhouse, look like the red toadstools in a wood.

Nothing ventures to show itself higher up towards the blue sky, except the church with its very corpulent belfry and a small tower. The footpath from Záluz̓í goes close by the wooden railing of the last farmhouse. Here, in the shade of a blooming rowan, a man of about fifty years of age is standing, leaning upon a hawthorn stick and looking at random over the fields. You may see at once that he is the parish priest. His brown eyes are full of kindness, but are clouded over now with melancholy. The expression is not peevish, but sad and touching. No doubt cares are gnawing at his heart, else why should he stand in the midst of vernal rejoicing, of merriment and pleasure, like a thirsty musician? It is the Rev. Father Václav Cvok, the priest of Záluz̓í. He is a diligent labourer in the Lord’s vineyard, but does not partake at much wine himself—that is plain. All his exterior shows it; even his very boots! One of them has a patch on the right side, the other on the left. And his hat: There was a time when it was black; but now it is changing into a greenish brown, and shows that it has never had the habit of being sheltered by an umbrella. The coat is of a cut at least ten years out of date, and the elbows and seams tell of faithful service. Neither can Father Cvok boast of corpulence; his Orleans waistcoat is evidently too loose for him in the front; and the only bit of luxury to be seen upon him is a watch, attached to a hair chain, which is fastened in the middle with a gold heart. What can it be that weighs so heavily on his mind?

I’ll whisper it into your ear. The poor man has not a farthing left in his pocket, and no provisions in his house! His wood is all burnt, not one fowl more in his yard, and the ancient maid, Naninka, his old housekeeper, has used up the last grain of flour for to-day’s dinner. He is on his way to Suchdol to borrow five florins from his reverend brother, Father Ledecký, as there is no prospect of any speedy christening or funeral to help him out of his difficulty; and, to add to his distress, he already owes Father Ledecký ten florins, which he borrowed from him at the beginning of Advent, and has never been able to pay back since.

The venerable shepherd of the sheepfold of Záluz̓í heaved a heavy sigh under his rowan tree, scratched his left arm above the elbow, turned his eyes once more to the left towards Záluzí, then to the right in the direction of Suchdol. He was evidently undecided whether to return home or to venture to Suchdol. At last he wiped the sweat from his wrinkled brow with a blue cotton handkerchief, and came to a decision. Right foot foremost, he stepped out towards Suchdol.

To the left of the gate leading up to the house there stands, between two wild chestnut trees, the statue of St. John of Nepomuk. The stately old trees were covered with blossoms, and a whole flock of sparrows were disporting themselves among the branches. The priest stood still, took off his hat, and looked up for a good while at the trees. The sight of them seemed to brighten his eyes and gladden his heart; even his skinny face relaxed into a careless smile.

“The dear, good trees!” he said to himself; “who would not find pleasure in looking at them? And thou St. John, standing here under the blossoms and the sparrows’ love-making, as I, with my empty pocket, in May, the honeymoon of the year! Oh, dear and blessed friend, intercede for me, so that when I come back from Ledecký I may be able to thank thee with a grateful look!”

Then he entered the yard, and passed, with a drooping head, under the windows of the house. The dog lying on the threshold stood up, stretched his legs, and giving a bark for a welcome, ran to meet him.

At the door leading from the kitchen to Father Ledecký’s sitting-room, the energetic profile of Miss Regina, the cook and housekeeper of Suchdol, appeared. Her nose bore a strong resemblance to the beak of a parrot just going to give a peck.

“There is Heavens! here again,” she informed her master snappishly. “Don’t lend him anything, I tell you.”

“Oh, never fear!” answered Ledecký, as serious as book.

“Oh yes, that’s just what you always say,” said Miss Regina, sharply, “but in the end you let yourself be twisted round like a cane.”

“Well, I’m not a beech of the forest; I’m a Christian man, I hope!” said the priest. Just at that moment there was a knock at the door, Regina drew her expressive profile from the half-open kitchen door, and retreated into the background, taking care to leave the door ajar, that she might not lose a word of what her master and his visitor would say to each other.