Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (15 page)

BOOK: Valerie and Her Week of Wonders
13.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“ ‘I will never take you in, unless a miracle happens and you are brought back by horses on their own.’

“Thus you became an orphan, Valerie, and I have suffered all life long for my obduracy.”

“Is my mother alive?” her granddaughter asked.

“I don’t recall ever hearing that she’d died.”

“And my father?”

“He was a healthy man. But I never concerned myself with their family.”

“So, Orlík is my brother,” Valerie said with a sense of gratification.

Her grandmother just nodded. The girl thought she was nodding off. Again she asked:

“Grandma, what’s the truth behind the miracles I’ve witnessed over the past days?”

“It was all ... ,” Grandmother said and raised herself up in bed as if wishing to emphasize this part of her confession. But instead of words, her throat gave vent to a crazed shriek.

“What is it, Grandma?”

Instead of words, all that came from Grandmother’s throat were inarticulate noises. Then even they stopped. Grandmother’s speech had gone. The last thing she did was to tear open her nightdress, fish Valerie’s scapular out from her bosom, and hurl it into a corner. Then she went calmly to sleep.

Valerie bent over her, weeping. Then she was overcome by fatigue and fell asleep with her head on her grandmother’s pillow.

 

 

Chapter XXXVII
FORGIVENESS

 

Valerie was awakened by a noise coming into the room through the open window. She thought she was still dreaming when she saw this strange image in the quivering air of the summer morning:

Approaching the house of wonders from the square was the carriage from under whose hood Valerie had looked up at the starry sky a week before. On one of the horses sat a young man. Valerie recognized him at once. It was Orlík. He was holding onto the horse’s mane, gripping its flanks with his knees. He was like a highwayman who had leapt out of the woods onto a horse carrying treasure. The second horse was cantering freely. Valerie tried in vain to see who was holding the reins. No one was sitting up on the box and the hood of the carriage was up, preventing a view of the inside.

Once Valerie had checked that the old lady was sleeping peacefully, she ran out of the room to the yard as the driverless team drove in. The horses came to a halt.

Valerie waited tensely to see what would happen.

Orlík jumped down from his horse and patted its sweating back. Then with a few turns of the hand he folded back the hood. Valerie, concealed on the porch, saw a robust man in a gamekeeper’s outfit and hat who was very much like Orlík. He offered a hand to a beautiful lady who was the spitting image of Valerie.

“Mommy!” the girl cried, throwing herself into her arms.

“My child, my beautiful daughter, at last I’ve found you again,” said the beautiful lady, weeping.

“Now embrace your father.”

Valerie blushed. She let her face be stroked by the black whiskers of the man who so resembled her friend.

Valerie looked around for her savior to reprove him for leaving her and then forgive him. But the boy had disappeared.

“Is it all a dream?” she asked herself, falling again into her mother’s arms.

“Is it all a dream?” the latter repeated, clinging close to her daughter.

Valerie caressed her mother, admired her beauty, pushed back her curls, and kissed her on the forehead. She noticed that her mother had no earrings. For the sheer joy of it and to show her love for the woman she had been separated from for years, she took the fateful jewels from her little pocket and clipped them onto her mother’s ears.

The lady was touched. She said:

“At last I believe that I won’t have to die a nun. May I believe that I have won your grandmother’s forgiveness?”

No sooner had she said these words than the door opened. There in the doorway stood Orlík, supporting Grandmother, who opened her arms wide to the new arrivals.

Valerie witnessed the kisses of the two lost beings, their tears and their embraces.

While the beautiful lady greeted in the most tender of terms the woman whose implacable anger had lasted for so many long years, the old lady revealed through her smiles that she was happy.

“Tell me you forgive me, tell me you have forgiven me.”

Grandmother just nodded and indicated with a finger that she was fated never to speak again.

“Orlík,” said Valerie, “you’re acting as if you don’t know me.”

“You know one another?” asked the beautiful lady in surprise. “Have you met before, my dear children?”

“Of course,” said Orlík.

Instead of greeting his sister, he picked her up by the hips and raised her high until she shrieked with fright.

Although suspended between heaven and earth for only an instant, she could not fail to spot, nailed high up on the door by the cellar, the skin of a polecat.

When Orlík put her back on the ground, she whispered in his ear:

“Go to the cellar and take a good look at the door.”

Orlík laughed and caressed her.

Without letting those happy people, overjoyed at being reunited, see him, he cast a few worried glances towards the phantom.

“Go and fetch Grandma’s coat, Valerie.”

“What do you mean to do?”

“Look over there, but keep calm,” said her brother.

Valerie stared at the nailed-up skin and noticed a crack taking shape in it, growing ever longer and wider.

“What does it mean?”

“Go and get Grandma’s coat,” her brother said sternly.

Valerie obeyed. The maids were surprised. When she took the coat from Grandmother’s wardrobe, they asked, all speaking at once, what was going on.

Valerie told them:

“You’ll see!”

She did not neglect to cast a glance at the scapular, which lay forgotten on Grandmother’s bed. The moment she touched it, it disintegrated in her hand as if it were made of ash.

Valerie went back to the yard. The maids ran out after her. They saw Orlík helping his grandmother into the carriage. The boy nodded to his parents to sit next to the old lady, helped Valerie into the carriage, and himself mounted the box. Andrei led the horses out of the yard and together with the maids saw the coach off as far as the square. All at once, Valerie looked back. To her utter amazement, she saw her grandmother’s house collapse.

 

 

Chapter XXXVIII
AND THE LAST

 

On a high elevation atop a cliff above a cold river, into which that evening he had dipped his chivalric shoe, in a landscape which counted its cuckoos from morning to night, leaning on the battlements of a well-preserved hunting lodge, which for many a long year had been home to foresters, stood a boy and a girl gazing at the treetops from where an exhausted sun plunged like a rosy squirrel down into the dark depths of the forest and above which the sky melted into the emerald of infinity.

“One week today,” said the girl. “It
is
Friday, isn’t it?”

“What is time here amid the centuries of Nature?” the boy responded.

A little door creaked and the children turned around.

Onto the balcony high above the pageant of Nature stepped an old lady with a lamp shining in her hand. The lodge was so high up that not a single moth came flying to the lamp, and if anything were to form an opulent corona around it, it would have to be the wild birds from the bowels of this ancient wilderness, which seemed but a dream even to the hawks.

“Good night, Grandma, sleep well,” said the girl.

The old lady nodded silently and made her way across the balcony to the door. It clicked quietly shut and the silence was restored.

“Poor Grandma,” said Valerie.

All my readers will surely have recognized the young pair.

“Poor Grandma,” she repeated once more. “I wonder what was the sentence she did not utter.”

“Look down there, Valerie, strain your eyes so that you, too, can see the wonderful procession of tiny fish beneath the surface of that distant water.”

“All I can see is a thin iridescent strip.”

“Look harder, Valerie, there’s nothing so enchanting as a glimpse of the innumerable mysteries that surround us.

“Take a good look. In a moment you will see some deer grazing in the clearing.”

“This afternoon I looked through Father’s bookcase and found some beautiful old volumes full of magical engravings.”

“Shh! Dreamer! Do you see the deer going down to the water? It’s beautiful. Watch awhile.”

“It’s miraculous.”

“See, that must be their king. I can’t count how old he is, he’s got a whole tower of branches on his head,” said Orlík.

“Tell me something about the world, about your adventures, about ... ,” Valerie broke off.

“Imagine a storm coming,” said the boy, as if he had not heard his sister’s question, “imagine it rumbling down there.”

“There’s not a cloud in the sky, so where’s a storm going to come from?”

“Help me count the age of the king stag.”

“No, it’s impossible,” said the girl. “I’m going cross-eyed. You’ll never be able to count it.”

“When the stag stands erect, the tower is three times as tall. When he bends down, it’s three times as deep. If he jumped up onto a steep cliff, you could climb up his crown all the way to the stars.”

“You must have experienced many things, Orlík. I don’t know the world, I don’t even know myself. I’m forever daydreaming and often can’t tell dreams from reality.”

“One day, we’ll go to the river together and watch the deer from up close,” said Orlík, still staring into the dark.

The ravine beneath them gradually filled with rising mist. It seemed to be floating, sailing upwards, running with the river, which was gradually disappearing in it.

“If I were to shout,” said the boy, “my voice would be echoed back seven times.”

“Don’t do it,” his sister replied. “It would feel as if you really were in the rocks and calling for help.”

“Good night,” the boy called to the forest.

“Good night,” the echo repeated, stirring the first dry leaves on the cliff.

“Good night,” sounded back from the hollows, where the stag let himself be crowned by a firmament of stars.

“Good night,” came a dull response from the basalt figure of a man with a cross driven into his stony chest.

“Good night,” resounded another four times from the different points of the compass.

“It’s beautiful,” said Valerie, nuzzling up to her brother’s shoulder. “So many unknown beings are wishing us good night.”

The magic of the echo had barely passed when from up in the lodge they caught the sound of a muted piano, which drifted down to the twins as they watched the stars multiply.

The old song, wrested from the tuneless piano, was so beautiful they dared not speak. As the first verse ended, Valerie said:

“That’s Grandma playing. It’s been so long since I heard her play that song!”

The tune came again. And Valerie, snuggled up to her brother, joined in with her own little voice, which quavered like the evening star, and sang:

 

Good night, my gentle magician,

hear your nymph as she sobs aloud.

Hear her weep in her dejection,

as the night weaves her a shroud.

 

Good night, my golden-haired maiden,

Good night and may you sweetly sleep,

and when you wake, my ladylove,

for ever and aye your secret keep.

 

In the distance there was a clap of thunder.

And with that thunderclap Valerie’s week of wonders came to an end.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Vítězslav Nezval was born on May 26, 1900, in Biskoupky, a small hamlet in southern Moravia. His father was a teacher. Perhaps the most prolific Czech writer during the interwar period, he was an original member of the avant-garde artist’s group Devětsil and a leading figure in the Poetist movement. His output consists of numerous poetry collections, experimental plays and novels, memoirs, essays, and translations. Along with Karel Teige, Jindřich Štyrský, and Toyen, Nezval frequently traveled to Paris, where he engaged with the French Surrealists and forged friendships with André Breton and Paul Eluard. He was instrumental in founding The Surrealist Group of Czechoslovakia in 1934 (the first such group outside of France), serving as editor of the group’s journal
Surrealismus
. He died in 1958 in Prague.

 

 

ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR

 

David Short teaches Czech and Slovak at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London. He has written widely on Czech language and literature and is the author of
Teach Yourself Czech
. His translations include
Pirouettes on a Postage Stamp
by Bohumil Hrabal and
Everyday Spooks
by Karel Michal.

Read more about the book
here
.

BOOK: Valerie and Her Week of Wonders
13.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Gazooka by Gwyn Thomas
The Enchantress by May McGoldrick
Unexpected by Faith Sullivan
Forbidden Love by Shirley Martin
Dangerous by Glenn, Sandra Kishi
Circle of Reign by Jacob Cooper
Electrico W by Hervé le Tellier