The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 2/In a Prague Coffee House

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The Czechoslovak Review, volume 2, no. 10 (2)  (1918) 
In a Prague Coffee House

In a Prague Coffee House.

From the dark clouds a few rays of sunlight broke through and glittered on the silver waves which a northerly breeze raised on the bosom of the placid Vltava, for a moment the river threw back the picture of the quays of Prague, dominated by the National Theatre. In a large coffee-house close to the river five men sat around a marble-topped table by the window looking out on the water. The men were far from old, but their faces seemed wrinkled and their foreheads were divided by a vertical line, a proof of heavy cares and worries. But the sunshine lighted up their faces, too, as one of them, after taking a careful look at the immediate neighborhood of their table pulled out a newspaper from an inside pocket and carefully laid it between the pages of the daily which was lying on the table. His eyes at the same time signalled to his companions to look away and to show no special interest in what he was doing.

While one or two of the little group looked out through the window as if tired of reading and as the others were glancing around without an especial interest at the company in the cafe, editor Z. smoothed out the folded sheet and gave another signal with his eyes. Slowly, as if taking up again an aimless conversation, his friends let their glances rest on the spread-out page and read the heavy scarlet words: Oath of The Czechoslovak Army—We, soldiers of the Revolutionary Army formed far from the boundaries of our land, make this solemn oath before our nation represented by the Czechoslovak National Council. . . . We swear that we shall fight side by side with our Allies . . . until the Czech and Slovak lands shall become an independent Czechoslovak State. . . . Remembering the heroic deeds of our martyrs and Hussite warriors we shall never negotiate with the enemy, never surender while we have arms . . . lay dawn our lives for the freedom of the nation.

Every eye was eagerly following the red print. Mr. Z. would not let the paper go, while he watched the impressions in the faces of his friends. Professor K. finished and turned away from the table, looked out on the river, back of which against the high vault of the sky he could barely see outlined the Petřín with its observation tower, a miniature of the Eiffel Tower. Suddenly tears ran down his cheek. Attorney M. pressed his lips together and clinched his fists. And then all looked down and not a word was said for many minutes. Nearly a year ago they had read the oath of the Czechoslovak Army in Russia, but that was taken by Czechs and Slovaks from home who came to Russia as prisoners of war. This second oath, they knew, was sworn by Czechoslovaks gathered together from all ends of the world to fight for the freedom of their native land.

They knew that the soldiers of the Czechoslovak Army in France represented a union of all Czech and Slovak emigrants who still felt with their people, that among them were not merely those who had gone over to the Russians and participated in the great victory of Zborov, but also those who be came prisoners of the Roumanians, those who surrendered in the first days of the war to the Serbians and survived the awful retreat of the Serbian Army across the Albanian Alps. They knew that among the men who took that oath in France were Czechs from the French Foreign Legion, the first of all the Czechs to put on the uniform of Allied soldiers. And they knew that in this Czechoslovak Army in France there were the first thousands of the Czechoslovaks from the New World who crossed the Atlantic in order to strike a blow for the land of their fathers.

And then one of the five looked up once more at the embankment; among the passers-by he saw a tall figure walking rapidly along the sidewalk. The man was nodding pleasantly to the citizens, who greeted him respectfully. “There goes Kramář,” said Mr. Z. to his friends. “Since the day when he was discharged from jail, since he came to Prague and was welcomed by hundreds of thousands, he seems to be getting younger. You remember that ten years ago he had serious heart disease so that he could hardly walk; you know that during the war even before he was sentenced to death, he rapidly grew grayhaired and old. Now when our boys in Russia are admired by the whole world and when Masaryk is recognized by the Allies as the leader of the Czechoslovak Revolution, Kramář looks 20 years younger.”

They watched Kramář, as he turned toward the National Theatre; there he was joined by another man. “Look, deputy Klofáč seems to be in excellent humor. He is going tonight to Lublaň to the Slav Congress.” The leader of the Czech Socialists and the leader of the Czech bourgoisie shook hands and then walked together talking in a lively manner. Every little while they stopped to emphasize some point in their talk, and the passers-by stopped too and took off their hats respectfully before the two two leaders who next to Masaryk represent the hope of the nation. Although both men had spent years in jail—and the Austrian jails have been celebrated by Byron a hundred years ago—their figures were straight and imposing. “Editor H. is walking toward them,” said Mr. M. to the four silent watchers. “They must have something important to discuss.”

In a few minutes Mr. H. left the two politician and with a lively step walked toward the coffee-house; in another minute the five friends saw him walking toward their table. “A great victory,” he exclaimed in a clear voice so that the whole coffee-house fixed its attention on him. “Great Britain recognized the National Council and our Army as an Ally.”

Everybody arose and gathered around editor H. and his friends. Somebody intoned the Czech national hymn, and in another second the whole gathering took up the song so dear to every Czech. But before the first two lines were sung, a loud voice was heard: “In the name of the law I arrest you, Mr. H.” A policeman in plain clothes laid his hand on the shoulder of the surprised editor. The guests present stopped singing and a storm of indignation made itself heard. It began to look like a riot, but Mr. H. called out: “Quiet, boys, quiet. Our Army spoke, France spoke, now England spoke—it is the turn of the other side to speak. Austria is giving us her answer. Let us go on, Mr. Policeman, na zdar, boys. Don’t start anything now, we will need you some other time, not today.” And he led the way while the police agent followed sheepishly.J. T.

This work was published before January 1, 1928 and is anonymous or pseudonymous due to unknown authorship. It is in the public domain in the United States as well as countries and areas where the copyright terms of anonymous or pseudonymous works are 95 years or less since publication.