The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 3/Foltýn's Drum
Old Foltýn slung across his shoulder an enormous drum, the venerable relic of the glorious patrimonial times, and came out before the castle. It seemed that the indulgent Father Time preserved the drummer for the drum’s own sake, for the tall, bony figure of Foltýn—very erect after the military fashion, inside an antique Uhlan’s mantle, with face wrinkled into innumerable folds though still possessing the vestige of its former fresh glow and clear, blue eyes of its youthful appearance, wilh coarse grey moustache and a grey stubble upon his divided chin, with a wide scar upon his brow and a dignified self-restraint in every movement—was as a living remnant of bygone feudal glory. Old Foltýn was the castle gatekeep, an office hereditary in his family. As in the Middle Ages the vassal families dedicated their efforts exclusively to the service of their own lord, so also the Foltýns restricted their ambitions to the positions of porters, overseers, henchmen, shepherds and wardens in the services of the noble proprietors of this castle. Yes, one member of them even attained to the dignity of a footman with one of the former gentry, thus becoming, of course, a boast and a proud recollection of his extensive relations.
Well then, old Foltýn stepped out before the castle along with his drum, seemingly to call the head of the village and his councillors together for some extremely important official business; in reality, alas! only to assemble an army of old women for the gentry's field-work.
Cocking his head a bit to one side, he brandished his drumsticks over his ancient drum. But what now? After a few prodigious beginnings, his productions culminated suddenly in one dull thud. I am convinced that many an old woman, upon hearing that lone, dismal sound, dropped her spoon in surprise and quickened her ears; then, as the mysterious sound remained the last one, she surely donned her headdress over her grey pleats, and running to the opposite cottage, met the female resident of it and read upon her lips the question which she herself was preparing to utter: what has happened to old Foltýn that he has concluded his afternoon’s artistic feat by such an unseemly turn?
The thing happened in this way. Had you but stood, at the given moment in Foltýn’s place and possessed his falcon eyes, you’d have seen, in the roadbend at the foot of the forest, a certain dark object which was nearing the village with terrific rapidity. Later on you’d distinguish a pair of horses and an equipage whose form was, in those regions, but seldom seen.
When the gate-keep reached this point in his observations, he abruptly came to from a complete state of petrifaction to which the appearance of the above mentioned object had reduced him, and hurried, quick as his legs could carry him, back to the castle.
The Adjunct Beruška was just casting a sorrowful, parting glance towards a remarkably fine piece of roast, ominously soaring above which was the fork of his esteemed principal, when Foltýn, drum and all, without giving any advance sign of entering whatever, broke into the room. He presented a singular spectacle. White as chalk, his eyes wildly astare, drops of perspiration trickling down his forehead, his lips moved without producing a sound while his hand aimlessly waved a drumstick in the air. All present turned, in painful expectancy from the table and towards him, fearing beforehand the news whose terrible character was clearly visible in the old man’s features.
“The gen—gentry!” he blurted out, at last.
“What?” shot back the director, the fork falling from his hand upon the dish before him.
“The gentry—at foot of the forest!” answered Foltyn, with dreadful certainty. The director flew to his feet, and seizing his best coat, began putting it on over his wild-hued dressing gown; his wife, for reasons mysterious, set about the hasty removal of the silver table service; Miss Melanie ran, fluttering, across the scene; Beruška stood, alone of thorough composure, gazing with quiet satisfaction at his superior, whom Nemesis had surprised so unexpectedly at his favorite diversion of choosing the best roast portions.
To explain all these phenomena, I shall have to apprize the reader that this castle—perhaps for its remoteness and its unsightly aspect—was the least favorite with its owners. Since the days of the old lord, who had spent a short time here before his death, not one of its noble proprietors was seen among its faded walls. The rooms of the first story, reserved for the gentry, were filled with truly useless extravagance: spiders, their sole occupants, swung upon fine threads from the showy ceilings down to the soft rugs on the floors, interweaving with their silken skeins, the richly carved backs of chairs and lounges that were covered with velvet. The officials and servants of the castle knew their masters but from hearsay. They pictured them therefore as well as they could, of course in colors largely ideal.
From oficial communications, various tales, rumors that circulated from one manor to another, conjectures even, they formed their own portraits of all those persons who, God-like and from afar, reached with hands unseen into their lives. Soaring before their inner vision in ever-bright contours were the barons, baronesses, baronets and the junior baronesses, chambermaids, nurses, the bewrinkled, wigged attorney, the English governess with her sharp, pointed nose, the rotund butler; the characters of each being known to them to its least detail. But to see these constant objects of their dreams and discussions, to meet these, their models of perfections, suddenly face to face was to them a prospect rather dazzling and awesome.
The inside of the castle was animated by a feverish stir. From the upper rooms came the creaking of doors, the noise of furniture moved hither and thither, the rustle of brooms and dusters. The director’s wife ran about the courtyard from the chicken-coops to the pig-sty without a definite plan of action, the director was seeking for miscellaneous keys and diaries, heaping the guilt for all disorder upon Beruška’s head, the fair ringlets of which the latter, thinking himself secure within the confines of the officerooms and without the least suspicion of the approaching storm, was busy at steeping In sweet-oil. Old Foltýn stood in the passage, with his drum across his shoulder, each muscle and every line of his face atwitch, stretching forth a hand armed with a drumstick after the fashion of Joshua, to tarry beyond the village awhile until everything was ready; for a triumphal arch, maids of honor, schoolboys, speech of welcome, flowers upon the footway—all this was darting through his old head. But the carriage stood not, nearing the castle with the swiftness of a gale. Already quite visible upon the road leading to the village was a pair of sturdy bays with lighter-hued, flowing manes, a braid-entwined coachman shone upon his box, a bluish grey cloud of dust floated above and about the carriage, enveloping in its folds a group of children standing, with mouths agape, along the roadside. Hardly had Foltýn stepped aside, removing his befurred shako the while, hardly had the delicate, white silhouette of Miss Melanie vanished beyond a window of the lower story, before the august visit came rumbling up the passageway.
The carriage contained a gentleman and a lady—lord of the manor and his consort. The man was of middle age and was dressed in smart black, his evenly oval and very pale face wearing a deep shadow about the eyes. He appeared languid and sleepy, yawning frequently. The lady was a young, fresh brunette of a quick, fiery eye, and was dressed in bright colors; with a vivacious, coquettish glance she gazed about.
As they rode into the passage where the whole populace of the castle was greeting them with low bows, the gentleman in black fixed his faint, sleepless eyes upon old Foltyn who stood in the very forefront, with his mustaches flabbily adroop, with limitless devotion written in his frank blue eye, with the expression of humble sorrow in his furrowed face, and his hereditary drum by his side.
The baron stared awhile upon this interesting part of his ancestors’ estate; then the muscles of his fatigued face moved, and milord gave vent to his good humor by a ringing, hearty laugh. Those standing about, surprised, looked for a moment from the baron at the gate-keep and back; thereupon they thought it good form to express their loyalty by blindly imitating the action of their majestic exemplary, and everyone laughed as best he could. The director and his wife in a somewhat uneasy manner, the carefree Beruška, the coachman and the butler quite heartily. The baroness herself smiled lightly and in a bewitching fashion.
Old Foltýn at this point presented a picture that is not easily drawn. He looked about a few times, alternately growing pale and blushing, stroked first his eyes finally resting upon the fatal drum. It seemed to him that he understood it all. He was ruined.
After some condesceding words to the rest, the gentry repaired to their chambers creating an initial impression upon the occupants of the lower story as the finest and happiest couple on earth.
A short while later they could be seen in their joint drawingroom. The gentleman sat, indolently reposing in an armchair, sketching upon the cover of a book the likeness of old Foltýn. The baroness, holding in her hand an antique, nude statue was gazing searchingly, about the room.
“Advise me, Henri, where shall I place it?”
“You should have left it where it was.”
“Oh no! We are inseparable. I’d be lonesome out of the sight of its fine, oval, marble face.”
“But if you will carry it everywhere we go, it won’t remain whole for long.”
“The very reason I guard it as if it was the pupil of my eye. You couldn’t but note the excess of care I paid it throughout our journey.”
“Belter get a lap-dog, my dear!”
The baroness shot an angry glance towards her spouse. Her lips opened to utter some biting conjugal reproof, but she thought better of it. Taking the Statue carefully, she whisked, full of scorn, past the baron to a rounded alcove. She was at point of depositing her fetish here when, sudenly and as if bitten by a snake, she leaped backwards and raised her finger in her husband’s direction. Manv years’ dust that had accumulated in the niche, had left its hoary trace upon it.
“Look!” she cried.
“Look!” echoed he, pointing to the ceiling. From a bouquet of fantastic blossoms there swayed a long, unsteady cobweb at the end of which, clearly defined, swung a hideous spider. “You did not heed my warning. Here is your first introduction to that divine rustic idyl of which you had dreamt.”
The baroness pursed her lips in abhorrence of the spider no less than disgust over her husband’s remark. She gave the bell rope upon the table a violent tug. A fat butler in violet-colored livery appeared.
“Tell those down stairs to send a maid to remove the dust and cobwebs,” commanded the fair lady, with a cloud upon her brow. Seating herself opposite her husband, who wore a kind of malignant smile, she kept looking with face full of chagrin in the direction of her endeared statue. A long time elapsed—the maid failed to materialize. The baroness’ face registered more chagrin, and the baron’s smile became still more malignant.
Below, the footman’s message caused an enormous alarm in the matter of dust and cobwebs, and no meaner amount of anxiety regarding the desired maid. After a lengthy conference and much ado they decided, in the fashion of a drowning man clutching at a straw, upon Foltyn’s Mary. It wasn’t but after repeated ntreaties from old Foltyn, who hoped with his daughter’s aid to correct the unhappy incident with the drum, that they succeeded in dragging he hesitating girl from the porter's lodge, the director's wife herself forcibly placing her own yellow silk kerchief—the one with the long, fringy border—upon her bosom, and a monstrous whisk into her hand; thus adorned, the trembling victim was led by the footman to the rooms of the gentry.
Angrily stamping her foot, the baroness stepped towards the door when it opened and Mary, white as a sheet, with eyes lowered, made her appearance. The baroness’ intended unkind address died upon her lips. She was dumbstruck by the charms of an humble girl: for this one was slender and pliant as a reed, her features re fined and childlike in their roundness, her rich brown hair in admirable harmony with her fresh, clear-complexioned face, her whole being breathing forth the magic of its first summer.
“Here my dear child!” at last spoke the lady, pointing to the oscillating cobweb.
The girl courtsied in a clumsy way sending a swift, dark-blue spark from beneath her dark brows the while, and came timidly forward. The whisk did not reach the cobweb. She was compelled to crimson, her dark blue eyes wandered towards the ceiling, her immaculately white throat arching upwards, below which, through the fringes of the bright yellow kerchief, showed a string of artificial corals upon the snow-white folds of her chemise. Add to this a princess’ foot that was hers, and own: a winsome sight.
After the removal of everything objectionable, the baroness tapped upon Mary’s shoulder in an affable manner and asked: “What is your name?”
“Mary Foltýn;” lisped the girl.
“Foltýn? Foltýn—? What does vour father do?”
“He’s the gate-keep, your grace!”
“Undoubtedly the one with the drum”, remarked the baron, while a slight smile passed over his countenance.
“Go into the neighboring room and wait for me,” said the baroness to the girl. After the withdrawal of the latter, she turned to her husband with the words: “A delightful child! How do you like her?”
“It all depends upon one’s taste.”
“As I have said, delightful! Exceptionally fine figure, pleasing face and, withal, how modest!”
“The statue seems to have found a rival.”
“Jesting aside, what if I should a bring her up as a chambermaid? Should I hire her at once? What do you say?”
“That your whims are truly inconceivable;” he answered, yawning.
The baroness favored her whims with an unusual degree of energy. With no preliminary whatever, she asked the girl if she would like to go to town with her, and, without even awaiting her answer , she engaged her on the spot, rechristened her to Marietta, recounted to her in brilliant colors the advantages of being a chambermaid, bestowing upon her, in the end, a pair of hardly worn slippers and a coquettish house-bonnet.
Old Foltýn was left speechless with pleasant surprise when Mary returned to him with this news. Not even in dreams did he cherish the hope that his daughter was by fate chosen to become a lustrous pendant to the footman whose relationship was the pride of the whole family of Foltyns. He forgot the drum incident on the instant, his walk became still more erect and his eyes glistened like those of a youngster.
Some days passed. The baroness continued in ecstasies over the beauties of rural life, and applied herself with great zeal to the task of making a chambermaid of Marietta; the latter often stood before a mirror, inside her fancy cap, with a huge tuft of all-color feathers which her mistress had purchased for her for the removal of dust, in her shapely hand; frequently, seating herself upon an ornamental footstool in the drawing-room, she roamed with her dreamy blue gaze somewhere afar, where her mind saw lofty mansions, finely attired people, and magnificent equipages—later always resting her head in her palms, lost in deep, deep thought. The baron lounged slothfully in his pet armchair, smoking and yawning; the director and his wife were at end of their concern regarding the exalted visitors; Beruška made friends with the violet-colored butler and played at twenty-six with him, safe in the midst of fumes of their pipes behind the locked office-doors. Once, at eventide, the baroness betook herself, with a tastefully bound volume of Burns in hand. to a romantic arbor in the park, which commanded an expansive view of the picturesque countryside about; there she intended to await the concert of nightingales that had resounded for several evenings past in the vicinity of the castle. The baron had scolded the butler for his fleshiness and ordered him on that score out to the fields for a walk. The director and his wife, in the secrecy of a locked kitchen, were putting away some fruit preserves. Miss Melanie had a toothache.
At this idyllic, restful period it occured to old Foltýn’s mind that Mary was tarrying a rather long time in the gentry's apartments. He dispelled the thought, but it returned. The more he tried to banish it, the more insistent it became. “What can she possibly be doing there this long?” he grumbled into his moustache, musingly: “the mistress is not at home.”
Quite without aim, he wandered out into the hall and passing up and down it, he listened at tentively for any sound which might come from above. Then he ventured, impelled by a power unknown, on the stairs; upon the tips of his feet he ascended to the corridor of the upper story. Stealing towards the door of servants’ chamber, he pressed the knob; it was locked. He crept in the direction of the drawing-room. Suddenly he stopped; a voice sounded from within—the baron’s voice. He distinctly heard these words: “Don’t be childish! Foolish prejudices! The world is different from what told by priests and your lowborn parents. I’ll make you happy, whatever your desires, they shall be fulfilled: handsome gowns, jewels, money—everything. I’ll create your father the manor’s manager or something even greater. You shall be alone in the city. Come, little one, be not a bashful, raise your beautiful eyes; heaven knows I never saw a finer pair!”
Foltýn remained as if thunderstruck. All the blood left his face, which expressed naught but dread and great terror. Lowering his head to the keyhole, he saw the baron inside completely changed: in his pale, clear-cut face there wasn’t a trace of sleepiness and his dark eyes were fairly teeming with passion beneath his thin, proud brow. Raising by its chin Mary’s superb face which was of crimson color with shame, he stared lustfully at her agitated bosom. Her eyes were lowered, one of her hands holding the statuette, the varicolored feather-crop, disheveled, being in the other.
Wild with the desperation, old Foltýn clutched at his grey head with his hands; grave concern laid hold of his throat, his head being flooded with a swarm of horrible thoughts. He was just at the point of reaching for the door-knob, but he withdrew his hand. No! That the baron should find that a father listened to his words, that he should stand shamed, caught at a vile deed by his servant—no , that could never be, that was too repugnant to the inborn loyalty of Foltýn. But what was there to do?
“The butler is sure to be at the office; I’ll send him up under some pretense or other;” he thought, hurrying down. But the office was locked, the silence of a grave reigning within. Beruška and the butler who were in there playing at cards just a while ago were there no longer; one was loitering in the courtyard, the other out on his health-walk.
Despondently, Foltýn hastened up the corridor. Before the doors of the lock-up though, he came to an abrupt stop. Here he stood awhile: then, forcing the door, he seized the huge drum that hung there and swinging it across his shoulder, he ran out into the passage. Waving the drumsticks in a wild flourish, he lowered his head as the deafening reverberations of the drum sounded. He drummed with such earnestness that drops of perspiration appeared upon his brow.
The director upon hearing the noise, became deathly pale. “Good Lord, Foltýn must have gone crazy”; he stammered, flying into the passage. There he saw Beruška holding a pack of cards in one hand, and the collar of the undesirable drummer in the other.
“Are you drunk?” cried the clerk. Foltýn kept up his obstinate drumming. Diverse figures collected from various points in the evening’s dusk, hastening to the place of the unusual noise.
The director came to Beruška’s aid: “Stop you idiot!” he thundered at Foltýn. “The baron must be sleping by now. I shall dismiss you immediately!”
“Just let him go on;” sounded the baron’s voice in their rear. “He drums capitally.” Then he passed through the group which bowed in reverence, whistling and flogging his riding-boots. He was going out walking.
When the baroness, lured by the mysterious sound of the drum, returned from the nightingales’ concert and entered the drawingroom, she saw her fetish broken into many pieces. From the reddened eyes of Marietta, whom she had summoned, she instantly recognized the guilty one. In great anger she ousted her at once from her service. Short was the dream of the stately edifices, illustrious folk and sumptuous carriages!
At noon of the day following, Foltýn stood before the castle drumming people together for work. Meanwhile he gazed towards the forest bend of the road along which the gentry’s equipage was travelling with marvelous speed on its way from the village. When the vehicle vanished in the forest, Foltýn gave a deep sigh, hung his drumsticks and shook his head. Then came the thought that, like his old drum, he no longer fitted into the present world. The cause of disturbance which occured the previous day he preserved a headstrong secret until his death.
- Translated by John Hulla.