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Neighbor part 4

06/02/2019 | GM6 | No Comments

Husband! He had never thought of that. Suddenly a cold sweat appeared on his brow. He went out and roamed until dawn around the quiet, moonlit lake, filled with the reflection of bright stars which resembled greenish sparkling fireflies.

He was just about to lie down, when a tap, tap, tap sounded on the window pane. His charming neighbor appeared, just like the dawn, golden and blushing, rose-like and white, in a lace morning gown, her lovely blue eyes still heavy with sleep. She held a little finger to her red, sinful lips, luscious and sanguine, as a sign of silence.

“I found no peace throughout the night,” he whispered, pale and weary.

“Do not fear. I understand you. Do not fear, Peter; I am true to you alone!”

And only the trembling of a flower from her breath remained, as Tkalac extended his hungry arms towards the quiet, blooming window, lit by the first rays of the sun, while from above was heard the unpleasant voice of a man, severely rolling his r’s.

This was repeated daily for two weeks.

Tkalac disappeared

Valentina was very much surprised when Tkalac disappeared with-out leaving a trace. She became ill from worry and torment. One rainy evening her husband told her in a puzzling way that he was awaiting a very important guest and that they would remain alone. She thought it would be some tiresome business matter, some tedious signing of papers; and while at supper, she almost fainted on hearing Peter’s steps on the upper floor. Notwithstanding all her questioning, her husband refused to explain this unexpected visit.

Like a thunderbolt from a clear sky, the servant announced that “Monsieur Kalak” sends his card and wishes to enter.

She did not recognize him at first; so emaciated had he become in the few days. Her husband arose, changed the expression on his bloated, otherwise quite pleasing face adorned with spectacles and a blond mustache, wiped his bald head and wheezed harshly, like one suffering from asthma. The visitor bowed courteously and in military fashion, kissed with visible embarrassment the hand of his hostess, sat down, and, after a brief, unpleasant silence, addressed his host.

“I am very glad Monsieur Colignon, that you received me so gallantly, and, as I see, you have not advised madame regarding my coming. If there still exists some knighthood these days, it consists in that honorable and sensible people eliminate every unpleasantness with as little trouble as possible.”

“Very well, very well,” broke in the host, breathing heavily. “I have thoroughly inquired and learned all about you to-day, and I know that your affairs are in good condition and that you have a glorious future before you, though, relatively, very difficult. As a man of affairs and business, I guess your intention and the cause for your presence. You have no acquaintance here nor any countrymen of yours; in your native country you have no reason, presumably, to look for help. Therefore, as your neighbor, you wish to turn to me, offering no more security than your energy and your indubitable honesty. You have begged me for the presence of my wife to show me that in such a delicate matter you fear not even such a—pardon!—embarrassing witness. I have, sir, no children from heaven, and although a man of means, I sympathize with everything young and fit for life.”

“But pardon me.”

“Allow me, allow me, my dear ‘Kalak.’ I am really not as wealthy as they say, but I will always have enough to help you in your eventual establishment. It is known to me that your institution prospers excellently, and I feel proud that you should, notwithstanding your great acquaintance with foreign, especially, Slavic, aristocracy, turn to me, an ordinary citizen and business man.”

“You are absolutely wrong, my dear neighbor,” the young man gasped with difficulty, and paled as though he were going to fall from his chair.

Deep, asthmatic breathing. The ticking of a clock mingled with the wild, loud throbbing of hearts. Valentina’s eyes became glassy.

“From your words, dear neighbor, I see that you are better than I ever dreamed, and my mission, therefore, is so much more painful and distressing. If I had known this, I never would have determined to undertake this step,” came from Tkalac as from a tomb, and Colignon began to look around fearfully, thinking that he must deal with a dangerous, gorilla-like lunatic.

“Well, what is it? What is it?” he breathed with great effort, meantime kicking his petrified wife under cover of the table to convey his alarm. She did not feel his nudges, so paralyzed was her moral and physical strength.

“No, sir, I have not come for money, but I came for her, for your wife, for Valentina, for my dear ”

“Are you sane?” sighed the host, rushing towards the window as if wanting to cry “Fire.” Tkalac almost brought him back to his chair with his burning, feverish gaze.

“Yes, sir, you have spoken correctly. I am an honest man, so honest that I am unable to lie, and I would kill and I would die before stealing another man’s wife, robbing the love that belongs to another, especially of such a sympathetic man as you. I love your wife, your wife loves me, and I came to-night to tell you this honestly and openly, and to take her with me,” continued Tkalac, placing a revolver on the table. “Here, sir, do not fear! I am not a lunatic, I am not a criminal, and you may, if you find no other exit, take this gun and shoot me here like an ordinary vagabond and burglar.”

And again there was a painful, grievous, fatal silence; difficult, asthmatic breathing, then the ticking of watches as of hearts, and the beating of hearts as of watches.

“Why, what do I hear? Is all this possible; tell me, tell me, Valentina? Why, it is not, it is not, it cannot be true; say it isn’t, Valentina, my dear little Valentina,” sobbed the husband.

“Peter Tkalac, peer of Zvesaj castle, is poor, has no more a uniform, but he remains an officer and never tells lies!” The young man, with his chest expanded, spoke energetically, as if commanding his troops. Valentina’s glassy eyes revived; slowly, as if awakening, she arose and stepped toward Peter and said, looking at him from head to foot:

“Whether you are an Austrian, Hungarian, Slovak, or what not, you should know that I am a Frenchwoman, and that in France it is not customary for lovers to denounce their sweethearts to their husbands. Monsieur Colignon, I have in fact liked his type, although I have not given myself to him; but from now on I hate him deeply and let that foreigner consider himself slapped. Good-bye, gentlemen!”— And she swept from the room.

“Noble sir, Monsieur ‘Kalak,’ do you need any help? I am at your service,” said Colignon to the young man, who staggered out of the room as though he were drunk and feeling like a whipped cur.

The servant ran after him into the hallway.

“Pardon, sir, you have forgotten your revolver!”

Neighbor part 3

06/02/2019 | GM6 | No Comments

“Be righteous, Pero, not being successful as a soldier. Even be a laborer, but remain honest as all your ancestors. Here is a revolver which may be of use to you, even for yourself, in case of any shame you may commit, to yourself or to me. It is better to die honorably than to live in disgrace.”

And Tkalac found, in the disorder of his luggage, which was like that of a gipsy’s, a photograph, and although it was quite dark, a lady, somewhat gray-haired, stepped out of the picture—she was still of a girlish build, pale, attractive, dark-eyed, with a permanent, sad smile—and this foreigner, after two years of dissipation, pressed this dear, lifeless relic to his lips, weeping like a child before going to sleep, great big tears; and consoled by the shadow of his dead mother, he fell asleep without so much as removing his clothes.

He was abruptly awakened by a tapping on the window. Knowing every emotion except fear, he was greatly surprised and thought he was suffering from hallucination. The tapping on the window was repeated, once, twice, three times. He rose, approached, and noticed a key dangling from a string which had been lowered from the floor above. Fastened to the key was a gingerbread heart bought at a fair. It was then near midnight. Silence reigned everywhere with the exception of the sound of a passing automobile on the street and the singing, accompanied by a mandolin, of some Italian laborers in the distance.

Outskirts of France

“We were to a fair on the outskirts of France, and remembering that you were alone, I brought you this present. This is not my home. I am a Frenchwoman who considers loneliness a misfortune and really believe that you are very unhappy alone there in the darkness of your gloomy, empty rooms.”

“Thank you, thank you,” he said, untying the gift, and still under the sway of the memories that had lulled him to sleep. His voice trembled with restrained sobs. Leaning back over the window sill and untying the string, he looked up to her, transformed in the soft and tepid light of the gentle full moon.

“Oh, how beautiful you are, my charming neighbor! If you could only realize what a gift you have made and what happiness you have brought to me by this cake, you would, perhaps, have reconsidered your act, because, in holding this dry heart, I feel as though I had a part of your heart and your soul.”

“Ah, speak quietly, lest the neighbors should hear.”

“Do not fear! Below live people who are always travelling.”

Black Yard

Tkalac then leaped up and with the hand of a gymnast, took hold of the ledge of the outer window, hanging with his back and his whole body over the deep, dark, and black yard as over an abyss.

“Ah, for God’s sake! What are you doing, you maniac? Should this old rotted wood give, you would break your neck. I beg you, as a brother, a son, a god, I implore you, enter your room! Have mercy!” Suddenly she began weeping and his grasp loosening, he almost fell from the window. He felt a warm moisture upon his forehead, like a tear.

“Oh, my dear, charming, kind neighbor, were I not afraid of grieving you, I would this instant dive into the abyss as into a pool of water, because something fell on my forehead like a dewdrop, from that beautiful, refreshing heaven of yours.”

“Mercy, mercy! Have mercy on me and yourself, you madman,” she proceeded to beg, hardly able, out of great fear and sympathy, to utter a sound. “I will allow you everything, everything, you understand, if you will enter your room and be sensible.”

As the wood of the window creaked and broke, she uttered a sup-pressed screech, while he, with one great swing, fell into his room with a loud and cheerful laugh.

Between life and death

“Until now I hung between you and darkness, between life and death, and now life and happiness look upon me from your moonlit window, my dear beautiful neighbor!”

As before, he lay on the window sill, looking at her, her shadow, interwoven in the moonlight, surrounded by warm and luminous stars, and she silently observed this new, unusual man. They conversed in silence, with their eyes, for a long time, until finally she said:

“I like you because you have not insisted upon my word and do not ask anything of me. Good night; it is necessary to save those minutes. Good night and thank you, my neighbor!”

“Ah, stay a little longer! Tell me, at least, how I should call you?” “My Christian name is Valentina.”

“Beautiful name! Once upon a time, if I remember correctly, a beautiful princess was thus called.”

“Yes, Valentina of Milan. And what is your name?”

“Peter, vulgar Peter.”

“Good night, dear Mr. Peter, and ‘au revoir.’ Soon my husband will come.”

“Who?”

“My husband!”

“Eh! Good night!”

Neighbor part 2

29/01/2019 | GM6 | No Comments

From the huge yard, transformed into a garden, was wafted an agreeable breeze. A canary was heard singing from a nearby window, and elsewhere a sweetly grieving strain from a Chopin ballad was audible. Tkalac followed the curling smoke of his cigarette, dreaming, with eyes open, like a savage. Suddenly he winced. On his bare, perspiring neck, he felt some drops. He wiped them off with his hand-kerchief, but, alas, rain again, and from a clear June sky. The young man turned his head, and above, from the upper window among the flower-pots and blossoms, there blushed a beautiful woman who lacked words to excuse herself and was powerless to turn her eyes from his confused countenance.

Foreign French

“Along with your beautiful flowers, you are also watering nettle, madame,” he finally said in his foreign French which, reminding them so much of a child’s prattle, caused him to be well liked by the ladies.

“I am too far away to be hurt,” she retorted, continuing to observe him with childish surprise.

“But there is also nettle without thorns.”

“I am quite poor in botany, but I am willing to accept what you say.”

“Please do not go, madame; it is wonderful to look up to heaven and you in that blue sky surrounded by those beautiful flowers.”

“You are a foreigner, I gather, from your accent and manner of speech.”

“I am, to my sorrow. I am an army officer who has failed and, as you doubtless know, I teach fencing and boxing.”

“Yes, I have read about you in the newspapers. You are on the path one do? A man must work. Should my plans succeed, I shall go to Paris and, besides, teach horseback-riding. I am a passionate equestrian, and you cannot understand how I feel here without my horse. At the sight of a fine horse I become as sad as a Bedouin. We horsemen alone know that a horse and a horseman may become one; not a horse’s soul in a human body—naturally!”

“You are a survival of extinct centaurs! And have you found an Amazon?”

Siren-like giggle

Tkalac noticed how suddenly she paled and then blushed, and his eyes, darkening, filled with a surprising moisture, which confused her. He wanted to reply with warmth and great affection, but among the flowers there remained only a short greeting and a suppressed and siren-like giggle.

Thus they became acquainted.

In the evening, Tkalac did not wish to go to the city for dinner. He felt ashamed about something. The presence of a stranger embarrassed him. In the evening, in the dark room, lying on a leather sofa which served also as a bed, he felt utterly unhappy and alone. He thought of his dead mother who had spoiled him—her only child; even as a cadet he had had to go to her bed every morning before she arose.

His memories turned to his father, a colonel, the real “bruder Jovo, red of face with a white mustache, hard as a provost’s stick, wearing his civilian clothes as though they were on a hanger, and those red, dilapidated morning slippers. Even as an officer he dared not light a cigarette in the presence of his father without first asking for permission. He remembered, when taking his departure, the sudden burst of tears which flowed like molten iron, the burning of which he still felt on his cheeks.

Neighbor part 1

29/01/2019 | GM6 | No Comments

Croatian

Antun Gustav Matos – (1873-1914)

Antun Gustav Matos was the son of a village schoolmaster. Shortly after his birth he was taken to Zagreb, where he received his early education. Later he went to Vienna and studied veterinary medicine, but as that failed to interest him he went to Prague. Being without a degree, he was drafted into the army as a private. He was sent to prison for violating some military rule, but escaped to Belgrade, where he played in the orchestra of the Royal Theatre. After many wanderings through Europe, he was pardoned and returned to Zagreb, where he worked as a journalist and teacher. There he did a great deal of miscellaneous writing. He died of cancer in 1914. Matos was a literary radical and a “Realist.” As critic, teacher, and novelist, he did more than any other prose writer to develop a native Croatian literature.

The Neighbor is one of his most vivid short stories. It is here published for the first time in English. The translation is by Ivan Mladineo, to whom thanks are due for permission to use it.

The Neighbor

He was very tired. While cooling himself at a window of his apartment on the second floor, his thoughts wandered afar. He had had to leave his country on account of debts. His family had turned him away, not without giving him the necessary expenses for his journey to America. He stopped off at Geneva and began gambling, winning at poker from the Slavic, especially the Bulgarian, students. When one of the students committed suicide, because of his losses, by drowning himself in the lake, Tkalac stopped gambling and conceived a happy thought: he would rent a larger apartment, buy a few mats and start giving lessons in fencing and later on in boxing (having learned this latter sport from a Parisian expert). 

By means of the sword he made his way into the highest social circles, securing excellent recommendations, especially for Russia. After the wonderful match which placed him among the world champions, he made preparations to move to Paris. For the first time in his life he had managed to save money. The young, eccentric, cosmopolitan ladies, in particular, were paying him in a princely fashion.

He started paying off his debts in his native country. Everyone was won over by his behavior, which was undeniably good, being a heritage from a long line of heroic borderland officers, noblemen of Laudon s time. Like most of our frivolous men, he remained good at heart a childish, almost girlish, soul shining from his yellowish, eagle-like eyes; and a black, manly beard accentuated his rapacious profile, as it does in all our mountaineer descendants of hajduks and uskoks. Though he loved much, not a single woman did he really like, because at bottom he remained somewhat of a Don Quixote, dreaming of the ideal woman like all men who are brought up on the ideals of chivalry.