Translated by Edith Pargeter
Artia Pocket Books (Prague: 1965)
Bernard Spera: former librarian at the castle of Kratochvile for the Duke. While Stoklasa was administrator at the castle Bernard was tutor to his daughters.
Prince Alexj Nikolaievitch Megalrogov (“the Colonel”). Spera calls him many things, usually “the Prince” or “the Colonel.” I will use “the Colonel” for consistency’s sake.
Josef Stoklasa: appointed administrator/regent of Kratochvile while attempting to purchase it
Ellen: Scottish lady-friend dismissed from Stoklasa’s employ. Taught English to the Stoklasa daughters.
Marcel: messenger boy from the revenue office (16 years old at time of hunting party; orphaned)
Cornelia: housekeeper (with the pointed breasts). Around 35.
Kitty Stoklasa: daughter of Josef, 13 years old at start of story.
Michaela Stoklasa: daughter of Josef, 20 years old at start of story.
Suzanne: French teacher to the Stoklasa daughters
Angela: Spera’s sister
Eliška: Angela’s daughter (Spera’s niece)
Marcel, Duke of Průkazský: the duke that Spera worked for at Kratochvile
Rychtera: head forester at Kratochvile
Count Alfred Koda: sly neighbor of Kratochvile. Proud but broke (due to the revolution).
Freda: works in the kitchen at Kratochvile (?). Upset that her boyfriend (works in the stables?) slighted her.
Eleonora: lady in the hunting party that Spera fancies and tries to make laugh
Jacob Lhota: a powerful man in the republic; head of the land-owners’ wing of the largest political party
Jan Lhota: Jacob’s son
Doctor Pustina: Stoklasa’s lawyer; head of the cottagers’ wing of the same political party as Jacob Lhota; has his eye on Michaela
Kotera: butler at Kratochvile
Louis: footman at Kratochvile
Fricek/“Fairbanks”: servant at Kratochvile (“always sighing for the old Duke”)
Františka: youngest girl helper at Kratochvile
Vanya: the Colonel’s manservant (Seargent Ivan Ilyitch Žoltarenko)
Veronica: an old stewardess at Kratochvile (“the old witch”)
Count Bolotov: fellow officer with the Colonel in the White Guard
Charousek: sends threatening letter to Stoklasa. Vice-president of Doctor Pustina’s organization.
Mynheer Huylidenn: book dealer, an “agent for an Amsterdam dealer by the name of Steiner.
Julia: servant at Kratochvile
Bernard Spera’s Forward
Spera story about the Prince. Three sources: from friends, from the Prince, and what he witnessed (only the latter is vouched for). [Note: see later comments on Spera’s trustworthiness under “The Folly of Lovers.”]
Spera used to be the librarian at the castle of Kratochvile for the Duke. Stoklasa was well-known as “ill-disposed to the Austrian Emperor,” which earned him the chance to own Kratochvile. Acted as administrator until the purchase was approved.
Story begins with Stoklasa arrival at the castle in the winter of 1918.
Ellen was dismissed in 1921. Spera is telling these stories many years later for fame and, most importantly, money. Fifteen years after the fact—1933? Spera was 43 when the story occurred, so he’s now 58.
Spera was going to teach Kitty and Michaela foreign languages and literature but ended up focusing only on literature. (Michaela said he wasn’t good at the other subjects.)
It was at this time, and in the circumstances which I shall describe, that Prince Alexander Nikolaievitch Megalrogov, colonel of the Czar Nicholas the Second, came to our estate. This man turned Kratochvile upside-down. He cast a spell on Suzanne, little Marcel, Kitty, Michaela, even my master, Josef Stoklasa. Through the activities of this strange man I lost Cornelia’s friendship, and when I afterwards wanted to achieve a closer relationship with Mademoiselle Suzanne she showed me the door solely on his account. I think it was the devil who sent this fellow to us. He tormented people with his mockery, caused no end of commotion, disrupted everything with his love intrigues, intrigues with truth and lies, money intrigues, and finally the intrigues of his companion, too, in which I detected a kind of poetic overtone. The Colonel was re-named BARON MÜNCHHAUSEN in our household. He is an adventurer, a conglomerate of deceits, beauties and graces which often ravished me, and which I curse now, hardly knowing where my next meal’s coming from. (12)
Spera’s sister Angela requests a thousand crowns to keep her daughter “from open disgrace.” Spera steals a book from the castle’s library and sells it. “The money which I had earmarked, in my own mind, for my unfortunate niece, found its way into the pocket of another girl. Poor thing, she was even more injured than Eliška. (13)
Spera’s mother was a servant to a sculptor. `
About the time that Stoklasa suspects Spera stole (and sold) the book, Spera begins to grow intimate with the Scotswoman Ellen. Spera believes the girls grew wise after initially falling under the Colonel’s spell.
It turns out Spera was fired at the same time as Ellen (because he was stealing bottles of wine to bring to their “sociable meetings.”)
A Page from History
History of the castle of Kratochvile, founded in the twelfth century by the basket-maker Koketák. The name of the castle means “pastime,” which is what Koketák had provided to the Abbot of Zlatá Koruna.
After the Koketáks came the Tchoříks, then the Burbulans, theMarkvartics… eventually to the Průkazsky dukes, who ruled for a century until 1918.
Marcel Průkazsky fled when the Czech lands regained their independence.
Preparations for a Winter Hunt
Spera hears (third-hand) that Stoklasa wanted to organize a hunting party. He is embarrassed by trying to organize one for the regent, who chews him out. Spera tries to save face in front of the help but is embarrassed again by guessing wrong (again) on what the regent wants.
Preparations for a big, splendid hunting party “for distinguished guests.” “Hw was getting ready to revive the old customs in good earnest. He was preparing a party so extravagant, so great and glittering, that nobody could recall the like of it.” (28)
Sprea things Stoklasa overdoing things, trying to appear greater than he was. “Whenever some boor insinuates himself into a duke’s breeches, he always bursts them. (28)
A ruckus in the castle—Spera tries to steer clear of it.
Kratochvile in its Glory
Day of the hunting party
Political talk between Jacob Lhota and Doctor Pustina.
Lots of wine while Stoklasa waits for Count Koda to show. Spera describes the scene.
Michaela as the object of desire for both Jan Lhota and Doctor Pustina.
The elite leave to hunt. The help head to the hunting lodge. (The hill it is on is called the Windmill)
Spera runs across the Colonel and his servant near the hunting lodge. The Colonel makes himself at home there. Acts like he knows Spera.
Spera feels under the Colonel’s spell at times, but still doubts his authenticity.
The Party at the Hunting-lodge
Everyone at the lodge, excited at meeting the Colonel.
Stoklasa wanting to get rid of the Colonel, but Rychtera slow in accomplishing the request. Vanya appears in the doorway with a knife, but it was for the meat he was holding.
The prince insults the forest and the hunters, those with a “pretended passion for hunting” (65).
Lhota stands up for the Colonel, siding him with Stoklasa against the lawyer (Pustina).
The Colonel is ‘dismissed’ (asked to leave). No sooner is he gone than everyone wants him back. The servants search for him in vain. It turns out he was in the next room making his “preparations to sleep in another man’s house”. His return was a great success for the party.
The Colonel makes himself at home at Kratochvile. Charms the help, even if he doesn’t make sense.
“I was able to enter into his way of forming these phrases, and it was clear to me why he talked: simply because he had a beautiful voice. The sense of the sentences didn’t matter a jot to him.” (73)
The servants loved him:
“It doesn’t follow from this that the Prince’s discourses were stupid or meretricious. On the contrary, everybody found charm and beauty in them, for the Colonel never mentioned, for instance, that Suzanne had worn-out shoes, and served—just as I did—for a wage. He never said that my master was considered, among the people, as a deviationist, that he was pilloried in the newspapers, and waging a lawsuit about the recognition of his right to purchase Kratochvile. No one ever heard from him a word about the things that torment us in the silence between conversation, and during sleepless nights. In the presence of this mysterious vagabond with the princely manners we were all ladies and gentlemen. He behaved as though none of us had ever been short of a penny to bless ourselves with, or wanted the means of hard living. He elevated everyone into the nobility.” (73)
The Colonel always has ideas to fix up Kratochvile, but no one listens to him. Invitations from other nearby estates rain in but The Colonel remains at Kratochvile, sending “up Mr. Stoklasa’s stock.” (75)
(76) Mr. Stoklasa wants the Colonel’s “help to restrain the lawyer Pustina”. The lawyer senses “an enemy in the Colonel, and never missed an opportunity of decrying him, insisting that he was an imposter.”
Stoklasa believes the cottagers have been a major part of his problems in buying Kratochvile, so he wants to revenge himself on their (and his) lawyer.
“In short, since he came to Kratochvile the old spirit ruled in the castle, and it seemed to the sevants that Duke Marcel Průkazský had come back.” (79) A return to the “old times,” something the servants really seem to want. A statement on the “need” for someone like the Colonel? But even then, they realize he probably is a fake. Those better off suspect something immediately, but is it self-interest? But then, how much of a “fake” were the upper crust in the “old times”? “What passes for beauty in the kitchen is usually the likeness of unattained happiness. The image of fairy-tales. The likeness of a king, the likeness of Cinderella.” (80)
The Colonel’s wistfulness for the Czar seems to mimic many of the help’s outlook about the duke and the old order. “Faithfulness, faithfulness to the old times,” he repeated, and his face reflected the truth of what his tongue uttered. (82)
The young ones (Marcel and Kitty) quite taken with the Colonel. The groom complains that Marcel isn’t doing his job, so he’s sent to help with the “feeing in the byres.” Vanya helped Marcel with his chores.
Spera believed the Colonel believes his own lies. Spera ‘catches’ the Colonel writing his regimental log.
“The Prince was an artist of life.” (88)
(89) “Put out of your minds all inadequate rules, and picture the Prince just as he was: a haughty, impudent chatter-box who yet never betrayed anyone, mocking and indulgent, unpredictable and loyal, a liar who spoke the truth, a master-debtor, an extortionist, a lecher, a deceiver, and at the same time a gentleman of nobility, such a prince as no one dreams of in out times. A prince from the mould of Saint George, a prince who honoured his flag, blood, sword-blows and the raised visor. He was a prince who believed in his emperor and was faithful to his emperor. Faithful as death.”
A Chicken on the Spit
How Vanya makes himself at home in the kitchen.
Why the younger kids (Kitty and Marcel) worshipped The Colonel and Vanya: “Because they were different from other people. Because their tattered cloaks fluttered like banners, because the dust and snow of fairy-tales clung to them, because Marcel loved then [?] , because everything revolved round them, because they weren’t afraid of horses, because the Prince had a cross on his breast and a scar on his forehead, because he climbed ladders, because he straddled the bannisters above the great staircase one day, and, to an accompaniment of merry yells, slid down it on his behind. (92-3)
Vanya’s antics show the division between those that love the Colonel (and Vanya) and those that think they are charlatans. Vanya believes in still being loyal to the long-dead Czar.
Vanya tells the story of how he met the Colonel. The Colonel was an officer who he saved.
Vanya: “The old times, when people loved one another, and honoured God and the most gracious Czar, who answers for us now before the throne of God.” (102)
Spera on the so-called ‘innocence’ of youth: “But at the same time they’ve already heard things about nocturnal meetings, they’re not quite so completely innocent as you’d expect.”
Stoklasa and his Lawyer
Spera’s take on Stoklasa: “He had a sound peasant root, but a dual will, such as we meet with in contemporary philosophers.”
At times he wants to live like a duke, while at others he just wants to “have shoved his elbow in this plate and leaned his jaw on his fist.”
Spera hints at the germ of a split between Stoklasa and Doctor Pustina.
Stoklasa and the lawyer arrive late to lunch. Stoklasa shows his love for Michaela and admonishment for Kitty.
Incidents in the Night
Spera finds the Colonel pulling down paintings in the library (to rehang them in a new arrangement). Soon enough books have been pulled down to make a fort.
Spera upset with the Colonel’s impertinent kiss with Cornelia.
Spera receives a letter from his sister Angela about the troubles of her daughter (Eliška) and the need for her to marry her boyfriend (a clerk). Angela asks Spera to induce the clerk to marry. At the time Spera felt mad for the intrusion, but realizes later that he (with Cornelia) is in the same boat as the clerk.
Spera tries to talk up Suzanne to the Colonel, then shows him Angela’s letter to condemn the clerk (and his actions) as a plan to leave Cornelia for himself. Spera sees the Colonel visit Cornelia’s chamber that evening, though.
The Story of a Russian Christmas in the Field
The next day…Stoklasa, Doctor Pustina, and the Colonel go into the study. Pustina leaves in a rage.
An excuse to tell some wonderful stories (via the Colonel). “Then he bent his head, and with linked and motionless hands recounted a blasphemous, or else an immeasurably devout, fantasy from Siberia.” (126)
The Colonel’s stories, at times, sound like something from Curzio Malaparte: “Alongside the tracks of our boots ran long, narrow furrows, left by the fingers of those who in fainting had clung fast to the manes of the horses, and whose left hands dangled low.” (127)
“That legend spread everywhere, and followed after us wherever we turned…” (132, ellipsis in original)
The Folly of Lovers
Spera imagines the consultations between Mr. Jacob and Stoklasa as they assist Michaela and Jan’s meetings.
Spera’s musing on what goes on in Mr. Jacob’s head during his meetings with Stoklasa takes on the same exorbitant rhetoric as the Colonel’s stories. At some point the reader has to question whether Spera is trustworthy or not. At times he claims omniscience, other times stresses he is musing on what happened, and at times claims he can only report on what he has seen.
Mr. Jacob (as Spera imagines the conversation): “In these times we live in,” sighed Mr. Jacob again, “one owes it to oneself to observe three things: to walk in down-at-heel shoes, to eat sausages, and to be as voluble as possible.” (136)
Michaela has changed; Jan chaffing at being “obedient” in the machinations and planning of the fathers (while at the same time planning on his next visit to see Michaela). He feels caught in a commercial transaction. Mr. Jacob, divining his son’s resistance, engages in reverse psychology and orders Jan to Slovakia. Jan, of course, goes straight to Kratochvile. Once there, though, the young pair are awkward with each other.
Spera takes advantage of Jan and Michaela going out for a ride to tag along with Suzanne. The awkwardness continues with the young pair, neither speaking of love.
About love: “When girls are in question, bear in mind that with them everything begins and ends with love, they find no other content in anything. They debase themselves for love, and love makes them queens.” (145)
Jan, feeling conflicted, decides to leave the sleighs for a walk. The Colonel meets the sleighs and hops into Michaela’s sleigh, guiding it away from where it would meet Jan.
Spera gets no where with Suzanne. He declares his love for her, she declares her love for the Colonel.
Spera muses on love…unrequited love, which shouldn’t cause despair because there are other women to love. “I’m too good a shoemaker to throw away my old lasts.” (152)
Despite the Colonel acting crazy, he realizes that he wasn’t. His “recless tricks were crowned with success.” (152)
The Colonel’s story about a captain’s dog that protected him from losing money at cards.
Spera and Suzanne pick up Jan…a very awkward ride back to the castle. Back at the castle, Jan accuses the Colonel of cheating at cards. The Colonel returns and Jan tries to pick a fight with him (unsuccessfully). Spera appears to come to Jan’s aid, but this riles Jan up even more.
Does Jan represent the “new times”? Unable to express his love, chaffing at the business part of the possible union, he undermines his own interest.
Stoklasa and Doctor Pustina argue. Pustina had put up Charousek to writing the letter and is finding it backfired…Stoklasa is considering fully turning to Jacob Lahota.
Pustina realizes his chances with Michaela are slipping away so he blurts out his love for the girl. Stoklasa dumbstruck…he had no inkling of the lawyer’s interest.
Stoklasa has “the worst possible opinion of Pustina, and considered him as the epitome of low cunning. If his own misdeeds hadn’t prevented him, at that moment he would have dealt with the dear doctor in a very different fashion…but long as I may live I shall never see him do it, for my master is involved up to the neck in all manner of obligations, and will never be able to act as he would like.” (162)
Pustina cuts down the Colonel, too, which causes Stoklasa to vow never to forgive the lawyer. Nor to let go of the Colonel.
“We are all tragic actors in complicated farces. We walk on tiptoe, in circles, by roundabout ways, and half of the things we do turn against us.” (164)
“But where there was no need of direct action, the regent was a man of steel.” (164)
Jan decides to take the lawyer into his confidence and expresses his resentment of the Colonel. Pustina tells him the Colonel is an agent of the old Duke (in the Tyrol), hoping to thwart the sale of Kraotchvile.
“Our century, of course, doesn’t share the methods of the old times. Contemporary morals are already ruined. Instead of these two launching into a clash and settling their affair as young men should, each of them swallowed his rage and went on to close his agreement with his antagonist-ally against the third cockerel.” (166)
The Colonel, looking for Marcel, heads to the byre. The Swiss cowman takes offense at the Colonel and lunges at him with a pitchfork. The Colonel punches the cowman, sending him flying. The story passes around Kratochvile, getting wilder with each telling. Cornelia, fearing for the Colonel’s life is sobbing hysterically (leading everyone else to guess at her relationship with him, raising scorn against the Colonel with the help).
“They turned on their heels, arms akimbo or disapprovingly folded; but towards Alexej it wasn’t sympathy they displayed now, but scorn. It may well be that more than one of those kitchen-maids had been fancying until that moment that Prince Alexej lingered at Kratochvile solely on her account. Very likely this one, or that one, wished that the same fate Cornelia had just acknowledged could have fallen to her. Who knows? Perhaps they saw, from this intrigue with a housekeeper, that the Prince aimed too low. Perhaps they were jealous, perhaps they had grown wise at one stroke, like the Christian congregation in their Whitsun enlightenment. However it was, the result was the same: the prince was left without allies. He was stripped of his enchantment. He was derided.” (171)
Spera, unable to contain his curiosity, goes to spy on the Colonel and Cornelia. About to be caught as the Colonel leaves her chambers, he runs out and past the help who laugh at him. His reputation suffers accordingly.
A Game of Cards
The difference of a day: neither the Colonel nor Spera are regarded well.
Spera hurls insults at the Colonel (who is behind closed doors), but realizes later that the same charge could be levied at him.
Spera bursts into the library after hearing the Colonel is with Suzanne, but finds nothing amiss. The Colonel tells Spera he intends to marry Suzanne in Paris.
Spera tells him his trouble but the Colonel doesn’t care. Spera debases himself in front of the Colonel, who then cadges some money off of Spera. Stoklasa appears at the library unexpectedly to tell the Colonel that Charousek is asking for satisfaction. The Colonel and Charousek insult each other. Charousek stalks away and Stoklasa informs the Colonel as to his disappointment in his actions.
Jan and Pustina poison Stoklasa against the Colonel, noting how he always cheats at cards. Michaela doesn’t believe the charges against the Colonel. Suzanne also defends the Colonel. The Colonel walks in at this moment. Jan practically accuses him of cheating. The Colonel says he didn’t take the winnings, it was still in the table. Spera confirms his claim.
“The perfect man, in whom there’s no fault to be found, the man who’s fully worth of respect and love, is usually extremely unentertaining. Honour, the righteous mind, purity, smoothe out on their lathes every notch and every protrusion of the spirit, and in the end their products are bland, regular and symmetrical, so that you shrug your shoulders over them. Can you love them? No. Your spirit is at peace. To universal agreement you affirm their superiority, and not a nerve in you is moved (except, perhaps, that you may experience a lively desire to write rude words on the skin of such marmoreal beings).”
“Then what, on the other hand, does move and animate you?
Tension, conflict, the imminence of a fall. The single mark of beauty soaring from a heap of faults and errors. That moment when you can say yes and no, believe and deny, at the same time.” (200)
Michaela’s trouble—she wasn’t seeing either the Colonel or Jan…just “shadow”’s of them. Suzanne, on the other hand, had no such issues. She loved. Michaela was only willing to love.
Regarding Pustina’s inexpert wooing of Michaela goes: “Ah, how inexpert our legal expert was in the things that make a girl’s heart beat faster!” (201)
“I felt a flush of joy at hearing that the Colonel was rather older than I was, for if he, so near his fiftieth year, could still cause a flutter among the girls, then there was at least a gleam of hope that I might get a hearing, too.” (204)
The struggle between Michaela and Suzanne for the bottle in front of Spera…in order to fill up the Colonel’s glass: “In this little tussle there was something incredibly childlike and candid, something that betrayed to even the most cursory glance that things were in a bad way with those girls: the Prince had them dazzled.” (208)
Spera more interested in listening to Suzanne…and watching her slip further away toward the Colonel…than in listening to what Ellen was trying to tell him. “At that time I didn’t know the goodness of Ellen’s heart, or the devotion that can be looked for even from ugly women, and which is often worth more than a pretty face. (That kind of wisdom was vouchsafed to me only later.)” (209)
When everyone leaves, Spera sees the Colonel disappear into Suzanne’s room for the evening.
The Fencing Lesson
Spera has it both ways: condemns seducers while ignoring his own actions: “I felt digust and hatred for all seducers, and looked upon myself as an innocent lamb.” (213)
Thoughts of Suzanne’s debasement by the Colonel troubles Spera and causes him to make silly plans. He plans to take Suzanne to Pairs where she will forget about the Colonel. In order to raise the money to do so, he plans “to enrich myself at the expense of our library”. (214)
“I know quite well that I excused my greed beneath the cloak of love for my sister, but I am obliged to speak the truth: my brotherly feelings did play a certain part in this affair, but I didn’t abstract my master’s property for my sister, or even for Suzanne. The real reason for this theft is my base character and chronic shortage of money. If I still wanted to seal your eyes today, I should point rather at the morals and customs obtaining about the year ‘eighteen. But how can I express the devilish glitter of those days? Since nothing better occurs to me, I repeat the questions I put to myself, standing there with the book in question in my hand.
“Here they are: Whose are these books? Are they Duke Marcel’s? Certainly not. Are Stoklasa’s? Not at all! They belong to the state. They are the property of the nation. Well, then, if that’s how it is, Bernard, you’re not laying hands on anything but your own property, for surely a page or two must fall to your share.” (215-6)
At the time Spera blamed the Colonel for Suzanne’s misfortune and his stealing.
Marcel and Kitty come to the library for a fencing lesson from the Colonel. Spera grounds up people (Michaela, Suzanne, Jan) to try and talk the Colonel out of the lesson. Michaela wants to be included in the lesson. Jan realizes the Colonel isn’t demonstrating any formal training.
Jan tries to start a quarrel with the Colonel. Spera, believing the Colonel to be a braggart with no training, talks about different schools of fencing. Michaela begins to have her doubts about the Colonel.
Spera examines the difference between the adults (Michaela, Suzanne) and the children (Kitty, Marcel) if they believed the Colonel to be a fraud: the adults would reject him yet love him the same while the children would love him more and turn on anyone exposing him. The Colonel shows no mark of being embarrassed and maintains his amiability, making Spera even madder.
A Slap in the Face
Spera goes to meet Mr. Huyldenn. Prattles to himself to kill time, but is overheard by Marcel (and laughed at). Spera sells the stolen book to Mr. Hulydenn for 800 crowns. “Ah, that return journey! I peered round me on all sides, and scurried along like a Capuchin who’s strayed into Whores’ Lane.” (225)
Spera gets a letter from his sister Angela, who reminds him of all the money the family spent on his education, and asks for one thousand crowns to help her daughter out. Spera caught between wanting to help his sister and help Suzanne.
Cornelia, distraught over the Colonel’s ignoring her (after wooing her) cries on Spera’s shoulder. “My old longings awoke again.” “I carried my old sweetheart to the bed, which received us as in the old times.” (228)
Afterwards, she tells Spera of her plan to go to a new place in Prague to keep an eye on (and supposedly punish) the Colonel and asks for a thousand crowns.
“The whole incident stung me. And in spite of it I wasn’t one whit the less in love with Suzanne, I still sympathized just as much with my sister, and pitied my niece with all my heart.” (229)
Spera runs into Stoklasa and the reminder of and self-torment about his theft shakes him. “I trembled before a man of meagre soul and partial education.” (231)
Mr. Huylidenn shows up at Kratochvile, causing the Colonel some concern. He thinks he’s an Englishman “poking his nose into my affairs.” (Marcel had told the Colonel about their meeting).
Spera plants backbiting seeds against the Colonel with Stoklasa, especially regarding Kitty’s admiration, causing the regent to renounce the Prince once he confirms it.
“There was nothing for it but to soothe my mind down to feelings of reconciliation. So I began to be sorry for the Prince, and told myself that the life of a parasite is a miserable one at best. I’ve knocked about the world teaching Latin to small pupils, and I know very well what bitter bread it is. Often the crust of charity stuck in my throat, and even today I could hiss with rage sometimes, of course behind my master’s back. To compensate myself, then, I take a bottle from his larder. In this action of mine is hidden the wisdom of people without pride, for I certainly wasn’t born a prince, and nothing is so remote from me as honours of that kind.” (235)
Spera confronts the Colonel about his intentions, reproaching him for sponging off Stoklasa, corrupting children, and chasing after the help. The Colonel is upset and tells Vanya to pack to leave (upsetting Vanya terribly). Spera keeps asking questions about the Colonel’s designs on the girls (help) and his way of playing cards. The Colonel slaps Spera’s face.
Spera reacts with cold calculation, telling the Colonel he intends to repay the blow by plaguing him until his life is miserable.
Spera goes to the study where he finds Jan and Dr. Pustina. It’s clear they are planning something. Spera tells them of the slap, although in reverse, and stresses they need to do something to bring down the Colonel. It takes a while for Spera to win the two over that he should be included in a scheme.
“I was satisfied that our victory would be complete, but at the same time I felt that I was at fault. Man is an ungrateful beast, nothing is quite to his taste. My joy was muddied by a kind of grief. It seemed to me that we should be destroying, along with the Prince, that side of the human character that puts no value on temporal things, and is resolved to go its own way. That side of which a remnant lingers still in every man’s heart, and reminds him that once, when he was about fourteen, he wandered about the backyard listening to a long discussion between his parents, who were bent on sending him into teaching, while there was only one thing he wanted and meant to be, and that was a sailor.” (245-6)
“I had carefully arranged matters to get the Prince into difficulties, but in its deepest and most personal essence this effort of mine longed only for its own defeat, like the virginity of young girls.” (246)
The Colonel announces he is leaving the next day for a meeting of the Whites in Paris. (Always going on about the Czar, his return, etc. … Dreaming of past glories.)
Jan, the lawyer, and Stoklasa taunt the Colonel. Jan proposes a fencing test—if the Colonel wins, they will believe everything the man has said. The Colonel refuses. Suzanne comes to the Colonel’s defense. Michaela begins to, but says nothing.
“Just think of it! — Suzanne had flaunted her love for everyone to see, Stoklasa was showing Alexj the door, Jan was drawing an imaginary sword, the Prince was hax-ridden with fear, and Michaela was holding her breath. Can you feel these elements mutually opposing and cancelling out one another? — My God, are we Czechs never going to achieve a sense of background, dissimulation and thematic unity?” (248) Does the Colonel’s dreaming of past glories stand as a proxy for them, too?
The duel happens anyway, in the library. Jan is very good but the Prince deflects all attacks at first. He talks the whole time. “The Prince went his own way.” Jan is able to knock the sword from the Colonel’s hand. The lawyer exults and wants to claim the prize: “we invest you with a mask of our own choosing.” (251) He is looking for a “splendid hat” they had crafted, “the same you must have forgotten and left behind in the last century.” (253)
The Colonel rushes from the room after Kitty and Marcel, showing his true face. Spera compares him to a shamed whore, then backtracks, investing in him (perhaps) ordinary humanity. He catches the youngsters and tries to comfort them.
Meanwhile the lawyer presents the wig and hat of Baron Münchhausen. The onlookers taunt the Colonel, saying the hat suits him admirably. He returns to the clown role, thanking them saying he will keep what he has earned and tell only lies from then on.
Jan taunts the Colonel to another round, upping the stakes. The Colonel accepts and ferociously and expertly attacks Jan. The Colonel scores point after point, causing all the onlookers to stand astonished at the display. Spera eventually cheers the Colonel on. “I loved him, I was devoted to him. I was delighted that he had held out like this…” (256)
The Colonel thrashes Jan, eventually disarming him. Jan apologizes to the Colonel: “You certainly — gave me — a lesson…” (257; ellipsis in original)
“We were all dazzled and stunned by him.” (258)
Spera embraces the contradictions he feels—devoted to the Colonel while hating him at the same time, admiring his brazenness while upset about what his trysts have cost him—sums up the book. It looks fondly back on the “old time” while also devastating on its archaic and senseless strictures.
The Colonel praises everyone, claims his love of his new hat, and compliments Jan’s swordmanship. He’s making fools of everyone, of course, by mocking them. “With it [the hat], or at any rate from under it, I can utter the most beautiful nonsense, and tease everybody to my soul’s content, without offending anyone. My words are immune from being weighed in the balance or causing any displeasure.” (260)
Spera comes to realize that Ellen was in love with him and wanted marriage. “(My God, she was past thirty-seven!)” (262)
He realizes he won’t be able to wriggle out of this fix. “I, poor devil, upon whose head all these forebodings were later to be fulfilled, recognized my dark future, and trembled at the chill touch of a Scottish hand and a Scottish shoe.” (263)
Preparations for a Journey
Veronica and Cornelia tangle (in words) over the Colonel. Vanya calms them down and begins to talk about the Colonel. Vanya had thought they wouldn’t be going away, only to be sorely disappointed. “Let’s face it, the man’s a fool who gets tired of good living. That fellow never settles down anywhere.” (266)
Cornelia—he isn’t going to Prague?
The Colonel thanks those in the dining-room for the three months he had enjoyed there. He launches into a mixture of straight-talk and folly, playing the Münchhausen role to its fullest.
He insults the lawyer, saying he’s lost Stoklasa’s support. Similar upbraiding of Jan.
Kitty and Marcel come to the Colonel’s door, saying they want to go with him. Instead of reproof the Colonel says nothing (which, of course, they take as consent).
Spera’s comment on Ellen’s attachment to him: “She herself was causing me grave anxiety, for it’s always a dangerous situation when an attachment begins reluctantly, and then gradually sets its victim on fire. When such a calculated love takes possession of an ugly woman, we can be certain that it will tear her hair until it deprives her of her reason.” (272)
Uneasiness with the Colonel’s leaving. Vanya tells the Colonel that he can’t possibly leave with Kitty in tow.
Mr. Huylidenn shows up at Stoklasa again, and once again the Colonel is agitated, thinking him a spy. He takes the man off, dismissing Spera.
Spera meets Stoklasa, who hems and haws, finally saying he wants to give the Colonel a loan to leave immediately and without Suzanne.
Stoklasa asks Spera to check with Ellen, who informs him that Ellen intended to leave because of a letter she received.
Spera returns to tell the news to Stoklasa, but sees that Stoklasa has the book he had stolen and sold.
Marcel informs Spera that the Colonel took the book away from Huylidenn and gave it to Stoklasa. When asked if he knows where the book came from, Marcel replies
“Yes, I know,” he answered, with the slight embarrassment of a footman who has caught you dyeing your beard.” (288)
Spera finds Ellen writing a letter to her mom saying she’s engaged. Spera begs to differ. Ellen said she would hold the letter a week and Spera could choose the date of the wedding.
Doctor Pustina lays his heart bear to Michaela and is rejected.
Spera is anxious to speak to the Colonel about what he told Stoklasa about the stolen book. “This is the end between us,” the Prince answered me. (292) The Colonel believes Spera has copied out his regimental log for the Englishman. Spera, confused at all the misunderstandings, loses it and bangs on the Colonel’s door and begging.
Doctor Pustina goes to see Stoklasa and the two have it out. Stoklasa informs him they have formed a company to acquire the castle and Pustina tells him he will drop his case.
The Colonel invites Spera to “Take the road” with him.
“The end of the old times,” as used in the book (page 296) means that if the Colonel took the two “children” (Kitty and Marcel), it would have ended his journeys. He needed to be alone (well, OK, with Vanya) where he could find “a new Kratochvile.”
“He had to be alone, for those too responsive little sillies for whom he had deployed his lures had taken his flights at their word, and would have hunted him into a world he chose never to enter. No, the end of the old times, my friend. The end of the journeys and the end of the seeking, the end of the secret, and the catalogue of your sins treading hard on its heels.” (296)
How is the world similar to this passage? What has been created by the people in it can’t be left alone or changed, unfortunately.
The Colonel reproaches Spera, saying he has cheated “me with certainties you don’t posses and will never find. So much the worse for you, you liar. ” You’re saying what isn’t true, and you’d be glad to get back where I am.” (297)
The Colonel tells one last story to the help while in the kitchen. Spera sees the help turning compassionate again to the Colonel.
“It was the end with him. He was overcome, he was perplexed, without a secret. I guessed what he would do, I guessed what he would say, and if anything surprised me it was his impudence, his will to sing out his role to the end. Alas, I saw that he was an impostor, I saw that he was one of those rogues who don’t know ho to stop in time. I was sorry for him! My God, what I felt for him was affection mingled with sympathy, and that was what all the others felt, too. I felt an affection which bore not the least resemblance to admiration.” (306)
Marcel suspects the Colonel is lying—the story of the gamekeeper (which Spera realizes is from the Arabian Nights stories) changes from previous tellings. He tells Kitty of his suspicion. And that the Colonel isn’t interested in taking them with him when he leaves. Michaela wavers in her plans of going with the Colonel when hearing from Marcel that Cornelia will be eloping with the Colonel. And she turns on Suzanne since she knows her governess is in love with him. Marcel proposes the two kids leave on their own.
Suzanne announces she has to return to Paris to take care of an ill family member.
Just after midnight Spera hears someone yoking up the horses. He goes to free Vanya (locked in the cellar) to help him make sure no one else leaves with the Colonel. Cornelia, Suzanne, Marcel and Kitty are all ready to leave with the Colonel but he escapes out the window, followed only by Marcel and Vanya.
A few days after the Colonel’s flight, Rychtera informs Spera that the rogue has set up a tent near the hunting lodge. Spera begins to write the Colonel a note (in rhyme) but is interrupted by Kitty, who wants to search for the Colonel. She (and Suzanne) don’t believe he has gone very far away. The letter predicted the Colonel’s former acolytes would turn on him after all their crying. Cornelia already has, it seems.
Spera and Kitty go to the Colonel’s camp. Kitty laments the group’s hard times, which makes Spera angry at her. He watches as Marcel plucks a chicken he had caught.
“But alas, I begin to realise that even at this moment, when I’m closing these pages, I can’t speak the truth. I’ve tried to, I’ve tried with all my might, but I see that it can’t be expressed either with the word YES or the word NO.” (317)
Spera relieved and distressed about Kitty at the same time. Does the Colonel represent a part of all of us, a part we tend to suppress but the Colonel lives lustily?
The group strikes camp. Spera rushes down to talk to them, but the Colonel is determined to start their march. Kitty comes out of hiding to call to the Colonel. Marcel rushes back to talk to Kitty, then turns to leave with the others.