"Heavens!"/Chapter 2

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II.

The Lord Jesus Christ be praised!” was Cvok’s greeting to Ledecký, saluting him on both cheeks after the clerical manner.

“Come in, reverend brother,” said the Suchdol friend, welcoming him. “Sit down—sit down,” pointing to a chair near the oaken table, which stood in the middle of the room.

They both sat down. Ledecký placed his chair so that he could keep an eye upon the kitchen door. Cvok turned his back to it. “I dare say you are tired,” said Ledecký.

“Not much,” replied Cvok. “Thank God, my legs are still as fresh as fiddle-strings, and I am as active as a minnow. There is no fear that the clerical complaint will ever touch me. I think, as far as the well-being of legs is concerned, the living of Záluzí is worth gold!”

“Why do you say ‘the clerical complaint’?” said Ledecký, reprovingly; “as if the gout was not found anywhere except in clerical dwellings. This looks as if you ridiculed your own calling; and yet I know that you are a very worthy labourer in the Lord’s vineyard!”

“Only I get marvellously little wages,” sighed poor Cvok, fixing his eyes upon the table.

At the kitchen door behind Cvok’s back the profile of spinster Regina appeared. Her eyes plainly said, “Do you see what he is driving at? He is just preparing his way. Don’t lend him anything!”

Ledecký looked steadily towards her, as if he would say, “Don’t you be afraid! I won’t be taken in.”

To Cvok he said, “True, your living is certainly no gold-mine. Záluzí is one of the poorest of villages; every corner is full of poverty there. But, in spite of that, you need not have cobwebs in your pocket, if you were only another sort of man, and would follow good advice when you get it.”

Cvok did not answer.

Ledecký went on: “I know you don’t like this sort of preaching. I admit that it is a beautiful thing to be such a pastor as you imagine, and as you yourself try to be. But this beautiful thing, this ideal pastor, is very unpractical, as your own form and figure plainly show. Where is the use of it? A priest is a man of flesh and blood like every one else, and must accommodate himself to the circumstances in which he is placed in his clerical office. Our country people are not what they are described in novels; if they are not absolutely obliged to give, you won’t shake a penny out of them. And then, when they see besides that their pastor does not seem to care particularly about money, and that he has neither the will nor the energy to demand and obtain what in all justice is due for his labour, they will tie up their purses: tight enough to choke them. You know, my dear Cvok, I do not wish to remind you of payment. I only mention it as a proof and an example. I lent you ten florins at the beginning of Advent; you promised you would take good care to pay them back, at least by instalments, and I really think you might have settled that little debt by this time.”

“And , if you please, tell me how I could have done so?” inquired Cvok , meekly.

“I’ll tell you how immediately,” answered Ledecký, quietly. “Last Shrove-tide Farmer Rousa had his son married in your village, and provided a snug bride for him. It was you who married them in the church. How much did you get for that?”

“My goodness! what could I have got?” answered Cvok. “They asked me and old Naninka to the wedding-feast, and gave us a big parcel of the good things to take home with us, which gave us enough to eat for about four days; and some goslings besides,—that was all.”

“That’s as good as nothing, my dear Cvok; you ought to have asked forty florins for the ceremony. Ten of them you ought to have paid me, and with the rest you should have bought a decent new coat for yourself.” Cvok began to feel warm, and a bitter smile played about his lips, while he moved restlessly upon the chair.

“I hope, with God’s help, I shall yet be able to pay you your ten florins,” he said.

“I do not want to remind you of paying them,” said Ledecký, defending himself. “My only intention was to point out the mistake you made for your own good, because I am sure there is nobody else who would hold the looking-glass to you as openly and candidly as I do. Otherwise, honour bright, I truly respect and love you in spite of all your faults. What matter about the ten florins! Let them go to the bottom. If you were at a pinch, I’d gladly help you with another ten!”

At this moment spinster Regina rushed into the room like a whirlwind , bringing a jug of beer, a plate of bread and butter, and the salt-cellar.

“I heard the reverend father of Záluz̓í talking here,” she began, spreading a napkin before him on the table, “and I thought a little refreshment might be agreeable after the walk, even though it is nothing better than bread and a glass of beer.”

“Thank you,” said Cvok. “Indeed, to tell the truth, I am beginning to feel a little hungry.”

“It is gladly given,” added Regina; and as she retreated to the kitchen, she gave another significant glance at Ledecký. He looked for his pipe in the corner, stuffed it, and lit it.

Puffing away, he then went on: “As we are once at it, ’tis as well to have it out. When a person comes to see of you, and wants to put his stick out of his hand in a corner, there’s sure to be a heap of books there already; if he wants to lay his hat down on a bed, ’tis all covered over with newspapers and magazines lying about; if he wants to sit down, there is a pile of books on the chair, and another on the table. Books and again books everywhere! What is the use of all that rubbish? I take an almanack and our one clerical paper, and have more than enough in them. Why do you throw away your money on secular books? As your income is so low, I’m sure you must have a fine bill at the bookseller’s?”

“I pay him with potatoes,” replied Cvok, carelessly.

“With potatoes!” exclaimed the other. “Who ever heard of such a thing?

“I’ll explain, ”began Cvok. “When, after being a curate for eighteen years, I at last got the small living of Záluz̓í, I thought to myself, ‘Now, as you are at last happily your own master, you’ll buy the necessary books, and will be able to keep pace with the progress of the times, even in the solitude of your country village.’ So, whenever I went to the town, I chose at the bookseller’s whatever books I liked.”

“And did not pay for them?” interrupted Ledecký.

“Wait a bit. Then the bookseller sent me of his own accord, from time to time, whatever he thought I might like. I had no end of pleasure with them; but then, the Saturday after New Year’s Day I got a bill for forty florins.”

“For goodness gracious sake!” exclaimed Ledecký. Where did you get the money?”

“I had fifteen florins saved. But how to get the rest?—that was the question that troubled me sorely. For three weeks I went about thinking of nothing else. I had to go to the town at last. My heart almost failed me as I entered the bookshop. The old bookseller smiled when he saw me; the poor fellow thought I was bringing him money. At last I stammered out that I had only fifteen florins. He made a serious face. That very moment the good Lord sent me help from an unexpected quarter. The bookseller’s wife came into the shop, and wanted money from him for potatoes. There happened to be a fair in the town that day. A blessed thought dashed through my brain. ‘Heavens!’ I said to myself, ‘you’re a made man now; the potatoes will save you!’ I told the bookseller not to buy any potatoes at the fair, as I had enough of them at home, and would gladly give them to him for the books, cheaper than he could buy them in the market, and brought to his very door. ‘Now, that’s really a curious coincidence,’ said the bookseller. ‘We want a great deal of potatoes in our family, and, if it suits you, I have no objection to your settling your book account now, and in future as well, with potatoes.’ ‘It is a bargain,’ I said, as we shook hands upon it . And now I reap from my fields not only potatoes , but also books.”

“It would have been wiser,” observed Ledecký, “if you had brought your potatoes to the market and sold them there. There’s nothing like cash. And then, as we are talking about it at all, I must tell you that your constant poring over books is bringing you into bad repute with the clergy. They think that you are a rationalist. If you please, how could you forget yourself so far, at the Church feast of Radesín, as to praise Voltaire up to the skies before the faces of so many brother-priests? I was playing cards at a little distance from you , and only half heard your argumentation; but you vexed the vicar very much; and who knows what might have happened if we had not talked him over, and made him think you had taken a drop too much , and did not know what you were saying?”

“I was as sober as a jug of water,” said Father Cvok, defending himself. “And , indeed , I did not praise Voltaire up to the skies at all. I maintained , on the contrary, that he was a filthy egoist, a treacherous, deceiving fellow, impudent and violent in his attacks, full of hatred and bitterness, and that his powerful wit consisted only of icy sarcasm . But I did say that, in spite of all this human dross and dirt, he was undoubtedly a great genius, and from the beginning to the end of his philosophy kept to the belief in a personal God, and the immortality of the soul. When , shortly before his death, Franklin paid him a visit in Paris, he laid his right hand upon the head of his grandchild, and said, blessing him, ‘God and liberty;’ and to Baron Holbach he wrote ‘Not to believe in God is just as illogical as to look at a watch and not to believe in a watchmaker.’”

Ledecký knocked the ashes out of his pipe, saying, “Let us talk of something else. By the way, what do you hear about Miss Jenny of Labutín?”

“She is still in Prague with the family,” replied Cvok.

“And does she not write to you? She used to be so often with you for a talk, that people remarked it in your village and elsewhere on the estate.”

“Miss Jenny is a clever, high-spirited girl; it is a pity that she must go in petticoats. She has a good knowledge of French and other literature, and has, for a woman, a very fair idea of what the aims of literature in general should be. We used to pass the time with excellent talk, and she would often say that in the whole of Labutín there was not one real man or woman; that they were all mere puppets, made up of society manners and insipid phrases.”

“What! not even Baron Mundy?”

“I only repeat what she used to say.”

“And has she not written to you from Prague?”

“She wrote twice in the autumn, but about nothing in particular. Since New Year I have not heard from her.”

Ledecký fixed his eyes penetratingly on Cvok for a moment or two, and then muttered to himself—

“As guileless as a child!”

At this moment Miss Regina ran into the room quite out of breath.

“Be quick, your reverence!” she cried excitedly. “Make haste! It’s sitting again on the plum tree near the beehives!”

Ledecký jumped up, snatched a gun that was hanging behind a press, inspected the hammer, and ran through the back door into the garden, Regina and Cvok at his heels. Just behind the corner of the house they stood still. Upon a high plum tree near the garden wall, where the beehives stood, a beautiful bluish-green bird, about the size of a crow, sat preening its breast with its beak.

Father Ledecký at once laid the musket to his cheek, aimed at the bird and fired. The next moment the bird tumbled down into the grass.

The lucky sportsman ran over everything in his eagerness to find the prey, and came back showing it up triumphantly to Cvok and the housekeeper.

“Isn’t that a fine bird?” he said to Cvok. “I can tell you it isn t easy to find one like it.”

“Heavens! I never saw a bird like that before in all my life!”

“It’s very rare. One finds it very seldom in Bohemia—once in a lifetime, perhaps. And it is as shy as it can be. But for all that I hit it!” he added, with proud satisfaction.

“What do you call it?”

“It is a bee-eater—Merops apiaster,” replied Ledecký, showing off his Latin.

“But why did you kill it?” asked Cvok, reproachfully.

“You are a regular child, my dear fellow,” replied Ledecký. “Why did I kill it? Well, in the first place, it is a pleasure to shoot such a rare bird; secondly, the merops likes to eat bees, and therefore damages my hives; and lastly, if I get it stuffed, it is well worth five florins.”

The word “five” gave Cvok a start. Following Miss Regina and Ledecký into the house, he reflected, “Now, there is a strange thing! To him the florins come of themselves, sitting on plum trees, while I can’t screw up courage enough to ask him to lend me one of them. The day is on the wane. I must be thinking of going home; and I can’t go back to Záluz̓í with an empty pocket, whatever I do. As soon as we get into the room, I’ll ask him on the spot.”

But spinster Regina was in no hurry to leave the room. The word “five” had not escaped her sharp ears either, a while ago. Luckily , Ledecký was in good humour to-day; in great glee at having shot the merops, for which he had already for a long time been on the watch. He said to his housekeeper, “Regina, bring us another jug of beer to celebrate the lucky shot.”

As Regina was on her way to the kitchen for the beer, a lad all out of breath, with eyes ready to start out of his head, rushed into the room from the passage.

Cvok started when he saw him. The lad was from Záluz̓í.

“Have you come for me, Kozman?” he asked the messenger.

The boy tried first to recover his breath, and then said, “Yes, I have. Miss Naninka sends word the reverend father is to run home as fast as he can, because something dreadfully particular has happened.”

“In my house?”

“Yes, in your house.”

“Heavens! I hope it’s not on fire!”

“No, it isn’t; but she said that something dreadfully particular had happened.”

Cvok snatched up his hat and stick, and took leave hurriedly of Ledecký. Only when he had shut the door behind him, he remembered that he was going without the five florins he had come for. He stepped back to Ledecký, and said humbly—

“I beg of you, dear friend and brother, lend me five florins. I have not a farthing in my whole house, and now, to crown all, some misfortune or other has happened!”

Ledecký lent him what he asked for without saying a word. Cvok shook his hand gratefully and rushed from the house.

“Take it easy!” called out Ledecký after him. “Don’t lose your senses! And remember ’tis better to come half an hour late, than to be visiting the apothecary’s shop for half a year afterwards.”

But Cvok was already out of hearing. Curiosity, anxiety, and fear of what might be awaiting him at home, had winged his feet; and though he had the much-needed “five” in his pocket, he even passed by St. John without giving him one grateful look.