The International (magazine)/Volume 7/Number 3/Old Foltyn's Drum

For other English-language translations of this work, see Foltýn's Drum.

OLD FOLTYN’S DRUM

BY SVATOPLUK CECH

OLD FOLTYN took his colossal drum, a venerable relic of the grand old patrimonial times, and went out to the front of the castle. It seemed as though Time in his forbearance had for the sake of the drum spared the drummer; for the tall, angular figure, carried in an upright, military fashion, the face in spite of its countless wrinkles still possessing a trace of youthful color on the cheeks and a youthful sparkle in the clear blue eyes, the ragged moustaches, the broad scar on the forehead, the decorous premeditation evident in every movement of limb, seemed indeed the living vestige of past feudal glory.

Old Foltyn was the gatekeeper of the castle. The dignity was hereditary in the Foltyn family. As in the mediæval ages the vassal families devoted themselves to the service of their sovereign, so the Foltyns through many generations confined their ambitions within the functions of gatekeepers, bailiffs, herdsmen, and gamekeepers in the service of the noble owners of this castle. Indeed, one member of the family in his day became footman to one of the barons and consequently also the pride and boast of his numerous kinsfolk ever after.

Now, then, old Foltyn stood before the castle with his drum, to all appearance as if he intended to drum up the village council for some important official business. In truth, alas! the drumming was only a signal to an army of old women who worked on the manorial fields that the hour of noon rest had expired.

Slightly bending his head, he raised the sticks above the drum. But, hark! what was that? After several well promising strokes the performance was suddenly cut short, ending in a strange low sound! Many an old woman, on hearing that peculiar sound, dropped her spoon in amazement, and pricked up her ears. Then, when the odd sound remained the last, she threw her cotton shawl hastily over her gray plaits, and, hastening forth to her neighbor’s hut, met its inmate halfway, and read on her lips the identical question she herself was burning to ask. What could have happened, that Foltyn’s execution, usually long and artistic, took such an unusual turn?

What had happened is easily told. If at that particular moment the reader had stood in Foltyn’s place, and also owned Foltyn’s falcon sight, he would have seen on the turn of the road below the woods a dark object moving rapidly toward the village. Later he would have distinguished it to be a vehicle and a pair of horses of a style unknown in this obscure corner of the world.

When the gatekeeper’s observation reached this point, his recovery from the petrified wonder into which the first sight of the strange object had cast him was instantaneous, and he started for the castle on a run.

The steward’s assistant, Beruska, with a mournful look was bidding a silent farewell to a delicious piece of roast meat over which his superior’s fork was ominously hovering when old Foltyn with his drum rushed into the dining room. Pale, with eyes staring wildly, forehead damp with perspiration, lips moving mutely, one stick beating the air nervously, the old man presented a queer sight. With astonishment all at the table turned toward him, dreading the news the terrible import of which was so plainly visible on his features.

“Their . . . lord . . . lordships!” stammered he at last.

“What?” shrieked the steward, and dropped the fork.

“Their lordships . . . below the woods,” replied Foltyn with awful certainty.

The steward jumped up from the table, seized his holiday coat and in his excitement began to put it on over his colored lounging robe ; the stewardess, for reasons unfathomable, hastily began to gather up all the silverware on the table; the assistant alone remained calm; with secret satisfaction he gazed upon his superior, whom Nemesis had so suddenly thwarted in his selfish custom of helping himself to the best cut of meat.

In order to explain these phenomena I must mention that this castle of our tale—perhaps because of its uncomeliness and remoteness—was not a favorite with its present owners. Since the time of the old baron, who shortly before his death spent some months there, the place had not seen any member of the noble family within its weatherbeaten walls.

The rooms on the first floor set apart for the use of their lordships were filled with truly unnecessary luxury. Their only occupants were spiders which travelled on tender threads from the brightly painted ceilings to the rich carpets, intertwining with artistic webs the beautifully carved woodwork of velvet chairs and divans.

The functionaries of this estate knew their present masters only from hearsay. Written orders, rumors, tales such as travel from one estate to the other, and their fancies, combined to produce vivid pictures of the noble individuals who like gods with unseen hands, from the distance ruled their humble fates.

But to see these constant subjects of their dreams and talk, suddenly to meet these ideals face to face, was of course a prospect both dazzling and stunning.

Feverish activity seized the castle. Shrill squeaks of seldom used doors, noise of furniture moved hither and thither, sounds of busy brooms and dusters, all came from the upper chambers; the stewardess kept running from the chicken coop to the pig pen and back, without the least idea of what she was doing. The steward was in the office, hunting up daybooks and various keys, and heaping blame for reigning disorder upon the assistant’s head, while the assistant, in his room, entirely unconscious of his misdeeds, was generously treating the blonde curls of that very head to some perfumed oil.

Old Foltyn issued from the passageway with the drum still shouldered, anxiety twitching every muscle and wrinkle of his face, and his hand holding up a drumstick toward the approaching equipage as though, after Joshua’s example, he would command it to stand still till the preparations at the castle were completed. For through the old head flitted memories of bygone days: glorious arches, white clad and rose laden maidens, school children, the welcome speeches, flowers strewn on the path. . .

But the equipage would not be charmed. Nearer and nearer it came. Already it had passed through the village and turned into the road leading to the castle. Foltyn scarcely had time to step aside and raise his shaggy cap when the noble equipage rumbled into the passageway.

The occupants of the carriage were a gentleman and a lady. The gentleman, who was perhaps some forty years of age, was dressed elegantly, but all in black. His face was oval, and perfectly white except for the deep shadows beneath the eyes. His appearance on the whole was dull, sleepy; occasionally he yawned. His companion was young, a bright brunette with sparkling dark eyes, attired in light colors. With a peculiar smile savoring of playfulness and coquetry, she looked about.

When the carriage stopped in the passageway, where all the inmates of the castle greeted the noble visitors with reverential bows, the nobleman in black fixed his sleepy eyes upon old Foltyn, who stood in the foreground, an endless devotion mirrored in the honest blue eyes, a dejected expression on the wrinkled face and with the patrimonial drum at his side. For a moment his lordship stared at this interesting piece of ancestral inheritance. Then the noble muscles of the dull, pale face relaxed, and his lordship gave vent to a hearty laugh.

For a moment the bystanders in bewilderment looked from his lordship to old Foltyn and back again; then each for himself decided that loyalty demanded blind following of the noble example, and all began to laugh, the steward and his wife rather nervously; the happy-go-lucky Beruska and the fat footman with all their hearts. Even her ladyship smiled lightly, and very charmingly.

During this ordeal poor Foltyn presented a picture difficult to describe. Puzzled, he looked around him, paling and reddening alternately, and nervously smoothing first his cloak and then his moustaches. At last his eyes fell upon the ill fated drum, and he understood; he felt himself a ruined man!

A few pleasant words, and their highnesses retired to their apartments, leaving an impression of the happiest couple on earth. His lordship threw himself wearily into an armchair and began to amuse himself with drawing pictures of Foltyn on the covers of an expensive book. Her ladyship, taking from among her things a nude antique statuette, stood looking searchingly around the room.

“Advise me, Henry. Where can I safely place it?”

“You ought to have left it where it was.”

“Impossible! We are inseparable, this delicate marble figure and I. I should feel lonely without it.”

“But if you continue to carry it about the world in this fashion it won’t remain whole much longer.”

“Why, Henry, I guard it as I would the pupil of my eye! You know I held the box with it on my lap during the entire journey.”

“Better get a pug dog, my dear.”

The dark eyes flashed with indignation, and her ladyship’s lips parted; but she seemed to change her mind. Carefully carrying the statuette, she scornfully rustled past her husband toward a niche on the other side of the room. Just as she was about to deposit it there, she suddenly stepped back, and, turning, lifted a finger toward her husband. The ancient dust of the niche left a gray mark on it.

“See,” she exclaimed.

“See,” he echoed, pointing to the ceiling. From a group of fantastic blossoms hung a long, wavy web, at the end of which a hideous spider rocked itself. “You would not listen to my warning. There, now, is the prelude to your country idyl about which you have rhapsodized.”

Her ladyship tightened her lips, partly disgusted with the ugly spider, partly with her husband’s sneer. Angrily she jerked the bell on the table. The fat footman in purple livery appeared.

“Say downstairs that I want a maid to remove the dust and spiders in this room,” said the beautiful lady, with contracted brow. Then she took a seat opposite her husband, who smiled maliciously while she gloomily gazed on her favorite statuette. Some time passed; no maid appeared. His lordship’s smile became more malicious, her ladyship’s gaze more gloomy.

Meantime the message had alarmed the lower regions of the castle dreadfully, first because of the dust and spiders found, and secondly because of the maid wanted. A maid! Where were they to get her? At last, after much discussion it was decided that Foltyn’s daughter, Marie, was their only hope. Foltyn, who thought thus to repair through his daughter the damage which his drum had made, had to go through a good deal of both begging and scolding before the timid girl consented to leave the lodge.

The stewardess tied her own yellow silk neckerchief with a heavy fringe around Marie’s neck and bosom, and forced a duster into the small hands. Thus equipped, the trembling victim was led by the purple man to the noble apartments.

Her ladyship stamped her foot and came forward when the door opened. Marie, pale and frightened, stood on the threshhold. The angry words died on the lips of the baroness; indeed, the peasant girl made a charming picture. Slender and graceful, with refined features and of childlike roundness, heavy masses of brown hair well harmonizing with the fresh white complexion—the whole breathed the sweetness and simplicity of spring time.

“There my child,” the baroness kindly pointed to the webs.

The girl bowed timidly; from beneath the heavy lashes came one quick, dark bluish ray; then she came forward. The duster did not quite reach the web. She had to stand on tiptoe. Her pallor changed to a beautiful pink, the dark blue eyes looked upward, the delicate white throat was stretched, and beneath it, through the fringe of the silk kerchief, peeped a row of imitation red coral beads on the snowwhite folds of the underbodice. Add to all the tiny foot of a princess, and admit it was a tempting sight.

When everything disagreeable was removed, her ladyship patted the girl’s shoulder, and asked: “What is your name?”

“Marie Foltyn,” whispered the girl.

“Foltyn, Foltyn? What is your father?”

“The gatekeeper, your grace.”

“Ah! undoubtedly the one with the drum,” interposed the baron, and a faint smile passed over his face.

“Go into the next room and wait there,” said the baroness. When Marie was gone she turned toward her husband. “A charming child! Don’t you think so?”

“Well, it is a matter of taste.”

“Charming, I say! A perfect figure, such a sweet face, and such modesty.”

“Hm, the marble statuette may fear a rival!”

“Oh! but sincerely, what do you think of her as a lady’s maid? I could begin her training immediately. What do you say to it?”

“Only that your caprices are manifold.”

And the baroness indulged her caprices with great energy. She went to the adjoining room, asked Marie if she would like to enter her service as a maid and go with her to the big city, and not waiting for the girl’s reply installed her as such, renamed her “Marietta,” painted to her in glowing colors the advantages of such a situation, and finally dismissed her with a pair of dainty slippers and a pretty housecap.

When Marie went back to her father with this news, he was almost numb with joy. Not even in his dreams would he have dared to think that his daughter was destined to become a brilliant pendant to the famous footman in the family history. Quickly was the drum episode forgotten; Foltyn’s bearing became more upright than ever, and his eyes shone like a young man’s.

Several days went by. The baroness was enthusiastic about the charms of rural life, and heartily devoted herself to the training of Marietta, who spent much time before the long mirrors, the coquettish cap on her head and in her small hands a huge duster of bright colored plumes which the baroness bought her. At other times she would sit gazing into the distance, her small head filled with visions of fine mansions, elegant gowns and grand carriages.

The baron lounged about the rooms, smoked fine cigars and occasionally yawned. The steward and stewardess lost all their fear of the noble visitors, while the assistant, Baruska, and the purple footman were soon on friendly terms with each other, and smoked pipes and played cards together behind the locked doors of the office.

One afternoon the baroness, carrying a beautifully bound volume of Burns, went off to the green bower in the park from which the view was especially picturesque and where she intended to wait until the nightingale, which had already been heard in the neighborhood for some nights past, should begin its sweet concert. The baron chided the footman for his superfluous flesh, and ordered him out into the fields for a walk. The steward and his wife behind locked doors were counting and sorting stores of preserved fruits.

In this idyllic, peaceful hour it happened to strike Foltyn’s old head that his Marie was tarrying rather unnecessarily in her ladyship’s rooms. He put the thought away, but it came back again and again, with greater force.

“What is she doing there so late?” he muttered under his moustaches. “Her ladyship is not there to be keeping her.”

Almost unconsciously he entered the lower hall, and eagerly harkened for some sound from the first floor. Then, driven on by an irresistible something, he ventured on the staircase, and on tiptoe reached the corridor. He stole to the door of the footman’s room and touched the knob; the door was locked. He went toward the salon. Suddenly he stood still; a voice was speaking within, the baron’s voice. Distinctly Foltyn heard the words.

“Don’t be childish,” the baron said. “Silly notions! The world, my child, is different from what your parents and the priest would have you believe. I will make you happy, you shall have everything you may desire, beautiful gowns, jewels, money—everything. So come, my pretty one, don’t be bashful. Raise your eyes, the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen.”

Foltyn felt as though lightning had struck him. Every drop of blood left his face, which was contorted with fear and alarm. He bent to the keyhole, and saw within the baron entirely transformed. There was no trace now of the usual sleepiness on the handsome face, and beneath the haughty brow the dark eyes glowed with awakened passion. Caressingly he put his finger under her chin and raised Marie’s face, blushing with shame. The eyes remained downcast, one hand held the precious statuette of the baroness, the other the bright colored duster, much disordered.

Poor Foltyn despairingly clutched his gray head, he felt as if he were strangling; a hundred terrible thoughts passed through his brain. Already his hand was on the knob; but he withdrew it quickly. No! Never! The baron should stand disgraced before him, his servant? No indeed, that must not happen; the inborn Foltyn loyalty would not allow it! But what could be done?

“Perhaps the footman is in the office. I’ll send him up for something,” he thought, and hastened downstairs. But the room was locked, gravelike silence reigned within. For the players in there were not at home to the outer world just then; Beruska was gone to the village on some important business, and the fat footman to the fields for the prescribed constitutional.

In his helpless despair Foltyn ran along the hall. Suddenly he stopped before the door of the ancient guard room, stood still for a second, then, throwing open the door, seized the gigantic drum hanging there, and rushed out into the passageway. He bowed his head, raised his sticks and a deafening rumble reverberated in the evening air. He drummed until large drops of perspiration rose on his scarred forehead.

The steward, hearing the rumble, grew pale.

“For heaven’s sake, Foltyn has gone crazy,” he yelled, and flew out to the passageway, where he saw Beruska, a handful of cards in one hand while with the other he held the untimely performer by the collar of his cloak.

“Are you drunk?” shrieked the assistant. But Foltyn drummed on.

The steward hastened to the assistant’s reinforcement.

“Cease, idiot,” he thundered. “Don’t you know his lordship may be asleep? I’ll discharge you from service—”

“Oh! keep him in service,” said the baron’s voice behind them; “he drums capitally.” Then his lordship passed through the bowing assemblage. Whistling as he went, and playfully striking his high boots with a dainty cane, he passed out of the castle.

When the baroness, startled by the unusual noise, came back without hearing the nightingale’s concert, and entered the salon, she found her precious statuette in the middle of the floor, broken into several pieces. She sent for Marietta, whose tearstained face betrayed the miscreant. With great anger the lady’s maid was immediately discharged. Short was the dream of fine mansions, beautiful gowns and grand carriages!

At noon, the next day, old Foltyn stood before the castle and beat the usual signal for work. At the same time his eyes were fixed on the road, where the noble equipage was moving swiftly from the village. When it vanished in the woods, he drew a deep breath, lowered the drumsticks and shook his head. Perhaps he, like his old drum, no more fitted into this modern world!

Englished by Vlasta C. Kozel from the Bohemian.

This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.