Polonaise, страница 1
Jane Aiken Hodge
To the Reader
A Note on the Author
To the Reader
The more I enjoy a historical novel, the more maddened I always am by not being sure where fact ends and fiction begins. So in the hopes that you will enjoy this one, may I tell you my own policy on this? All the historical facts are as accurate as I can make them. Events took place when and where I say they did. I hope. When it comes to historical figures, I have allowed myself a little more latitude. They too only appear where and when they actually did, and much of what they say is direct quotation from historical record, but inevitably some is not. What I do hope is that all their speech and behaviour is compatible with their characters as I have read them.
‘How dare you! Let me go!’ The angry voice carried clearly across Cracow’s Palace Square and Glynde Rendel turned quickly at the sound of English spoken, and saw a scuffle taking place outside the cathedral.
He hurried across the square that Poland’s Austrian occupiers had turned into a parade ground. ‘What’s going on here?’ His German was fluent and the Austrian soldiers recognised authority in his tone and stopped manhandling their prisoner, whose round hat had fallen off in the struggle, revealing closely curling black hair over a wide brow and the dark, sparkling eyes of a Polish aristocrat.
As if to confirm this, he was speaking again, furiously, in Polish – recognisable but not intelligible to Rendel.
‘Thought so.’ The larger of his captors tightened his grip. ‘A bloody Pole!’ The German word he used was stronger. ‘No need to trouble yourself, sir.’ His tone to Glynde was civil enough. ‘It’s just one of the natives come to spy, on the pretext of visiting this damned cathedral of theirs.’ He used a couple of adjectives Glynde had heard only on the field of battle.
‘What’s he saying?’ The young man turned eagerly to speak to Glynde in his slightly nasal English. ‘You’re British? Speak German? Ask them what in tarnation they mean by grabbing me. All I want to do is look at the cathedral. Why in Tophet shouldn’t I? I even have an ancestor there. As if they’d care!’
‘You’re American of course!’ It explained both the odd twang of the young man’s speech and something faintly outlandish about his straight trousers and short greatcoat. Glynde turned away to greet a minor officer who had sauntered over to see what was the matter. ‘Sir.’ He knew just the tone for this level of authority. ‘There seems to be some misunderstanding here. This gentleman is an American visitor; he merely wishes to see the cathedral. As a tourist, you understand. He speaks no German.’
‘He speaks damned good Polish,’ said the soldier who was holding the young man’s right arm. But his grip slackened slightly; he was beginning to look unsure of himself.
‘There’s no law against that is there?’ Glynde addressed the officer.
‘Not yet.’ The officer turned to his men. ‘What was he doing?’
‘Skulking about like a damned Jew of a spying Pole. We told him to halt and he took not a blind bit of notice.’
‘He didn’t understand you,’ said Glynde. He smiled at the furious young man and spoke to him again in English. ‘They say you took no notice when they challenged you. I take it you didn’t understand?’
‘Not a word. Confound it, here in Cracow hasn’t a man the right to be addressed in Polish?’
‘Not by the Austrian garrison. You can’t have been here long.’ He turned back to the officer. ‘My name is Glynde Rendel. I’ve been visiting my cousin, Lord Falmer, in Vienna. I dined with the Governor here last night; met your commanding officer. Either of them will speak for me, and I have no doubt, if your men will just let him go, this gentleman will show you his papers.’ Another smile for the scowling young American. ‘Glynde Rendel, sir, very much at your service. And you’re …?’
‘Warrington. Jan Warrington. From Savannah, Georgia. If these dolts will just let me go, I’ll show the officer my papers. I’ve a letter from Mr. President Jefferson, if that means anything to him. He’s a connection of my father’s.’
Swiftly translated, this information was enough to get him his freedom and a grudging apology from the officer. ‘Tell him to learn some German if he means to spend any time here in Austria,’ he told Glynde, who thought it best not to translate this, or at least, not at once.
‘I will act as his interpreter for the time being,’ he said instead. And, in English: ‘The officer has apologised. The incident is closed, except that I have volunteered to act as your interpreter, here in Cracow. It could save you further trouble.’
‘Keeping away from these Austrian bastards will be more to the point.’ He smiled for the first time, the dark face transformed: ‘Forgive me! Damned ungracious. I rather think I’d have ended up in one of their filthy prisons if it hadn’t been for you. It’s this temper of mine! But to be here, at home, in Poland, for the first time in my life, and find our own language useless! Of course, I should have tried them in French.’ And, with an odd little smile for Glynde he turned back to the officer and made him a civil enough speech in that language, ending with: ‘And now, if we might continue my interrupted visit to the cathedral? I take it there is no objection to foreign tourists visiting it?’
‘Not the least in the world.’ The officer’s French was only workmanlike. ‘It’s the Poles make the trouble. They will bring in messy little bunches of flowers, bits of ribbon, God knows what, and lay them on the tombs.’
‘Quite so.’ Glynde Rendel took his new companion firmly by the arm and led him away before he exploded.
‘Messy little bunches of flowers.’ Jan Warrington’s voice was loud but he was back into English with no risk of being understood. ‘The Poles make the trouble! And who makes trouble for the Poles, pray?’
‘Everyone. But if we are going to go into that, don’t you think we should save it until dinner and begin by paying our visit to the cathedral, which I wish to see quite as much as you do. Did you say you had an ancestor buried there?’
‘Yes. My mother was a descendant of the Polish King, Jan Sobieski, who saved Vienna from the Turks. I’m named after him.’ They moved together through huge doors into the cooler, incense-scented twilight of the great church. Like every other building Glynde had visited so far in Austrian Poland, it showed signs of neglect. He saw tarnished gilding and holy pictures darkened by time as they walked silently down the aisle, to pause at last by the shining tomb of St. Stanislas, Bishop of Cracow and patron saint of Poland.
‘I’m surprised the Austrians haven’t seized the silver,’ he said, low-voiced.
‘Not even they would dare! The Catholic Church is a powerful mother. The only protector Poland has.’ When they
‘The Polish eagle?’ Glynde looked at the flowers. ‘The Poles don’t forget, do they?’
‘They never will, not so long as there is one still living.’
‘You feel so strongly, even though you have never been here before?’ They were moving back now towards the great doors.
‘Yes.’ It was an absolute statement. ‘I sure was lucky to meet you,’ he went on as they climbed the wide stairs to the old royal apartments with their unpolished parquet and ragged tapestries.
‘It’s depressing, I’m afraid.’ Glynde was amused to find himself almost apologising to his companion. ‘But I imagine the decline here started long before the partitions of Poland, when the Kings moved their capital to Warsaw. Here’s the audience chamber. The King’s subjects keeping their eye on him!’
The carved ceiling of the huge room was divided into squares, and from each one a carved head looked down, amazingly individual and lifelike. ‘Listening.’ Jan gazed upwards. ‘I wonder what it felt like to dispense justice under so many eyes and ears.’
‘Characteristic plight of the Kings of Poland,’ said Glynde drily. ‘Always aware of the threat from their nobility.’
‘You know a remarkable deal about Poland.’ Something distracted him. ‘Ah, there she is, the one my mother talked about. See! The woman in the gag. I wonder what my cousin thinks of her.’
‘You’ve relatives still in Poland?’
‘I’m grateful to you for calling it Poland! It’s not many do since the final partition in 1795. Seven years ago! I was only a boy, but I remember that day. I think it’s when my mother began to die. Yes, I’ve some kin here still, though one whole branch of the family died in the massacre of Praga in ‘94. You know about that, too?’
‘Yes. I’m sorry.’ What was there to say? ‘How did your mother get to America?’
‘Her father was a friend of the hero Pulaski, fought with him at the time of the Confederation of Bar, went into exile with him. Was killed with him, too, in the American attack on British-held Savannah in ‘79. No hard feelings, I hope!’
‘Not the least in the world! That war between our countries was a bit of idiocy. But what chance of reasoned argument between a mad King, an obstinate minister, and, excuse me, a bunch of hot-headed colonists? I just hope to God it never happens again.’
‘You think it might?’
‘Not if this peace holds in Europe. If we should find ourselves fighting Bonaparte again, and I am very much afraid that we may, there is no knowing what may be the end of it.’
‘You really think the peace they made at Amiens won’t hold?’
‘It will be a miracle if it does.’ Glynde turned to look at his companion as they picked their way over huge cobbles on the steep slope down from Cracow’s Wawel Hill where the palace and cathedral stood. ‘You can’t want war to break out again.’
‘As a Pole, I must. Napoleon betrayed us at the peace conference. After all Dombrowski’s Polish Legion had done for him, all the blood they had poured out fighting his wars, he let the partition stand! Another war, another peace; it’s our only hope.’
‘I’d be careful how you say such things here in Austrian-occupied territory. Even in English.’ They had left the Wawel now and plunged into the narrow, crowded streets of Cracow itself. ‘I was warned in Vienna that there are spies everywhere.’
‘Thanks!’ Bitterly. ‘Of course their spies would speak English even if their soldiers don’t! I begin to think that the sooner I get to my cousin’s, the better.’
‘I’m sure you’re right. In the meantime, come and dine with me at my hotel. I’ve a private room, such as it is. At least we can speak freely there.’
‘Thank you.’ The young American turned and held out a friendly hand. ‘And thanks again for what you did back there. I could have been in real trouble.’
‘I’m afraid you could.’
Glynde had rooms in a hotel on Cracow’s main square, overlooking the handsome old Cloth-makers Hall. Instructing his servant to order them a neat dinner as soon as possible, he poured a glass of wine for them both, and raised his own. ‘To our lucky meeting.’
‘Lucky for me, and no mistake. But tell me, what brings you to this God-forsaken country?’
‘I’d have said God was Poland’s only hope right now. You’re not a Catholic?’
‘No. I was brought up as one, of course, but father’s a Unitarian. It seemed to suit me better, somehow. It’s the only argument I have with my sister. She stuck; I didn’t.’
‘Is she as passionate a Pole as you, then?’
‘Not quite. She was younger, when mother died. She doesn’t remember so clearly. Mind you, she speaks Polish as well as I do, maybe better. And German! Pity she couldn’t come too.’
‘I’m surprised your father let you.’ But then, he thought, fathers …
Jan laughed. ‘It took some persuading! When I finished at Harvard College, he wanted me to stay home and learn to manage the plantation. A life sentence!’
‘A pleasant one. I’m a younger son, myself; no estate to manage.’
‘But not exactly starving,’ said Jan with transatlantic frankness. ‘Those damned Austrians were your servants on sight. Do you think they would treat me as well if you were to lend me that caped greatcoat of yours?’ He had begun by dismissing his new acquaintance as a typical English fop, the kind of young aristocrat who was obeyed simply because he assumed he would be. Now he began to revise his opinion, aware of a hint of steel under the charming manner, a firm twist to the engaging smile.
Glynde laughed. ‘It would hardly fit you!’ Slender, though strong himself, he had approved his companion’s broad shoulders. ‘I think that if I provide the language for the pair of us, you’re the one who will keep the footpads at bay. That is, if you are going to agree to let me join you in exploring Cracow, as I hope you will.’
‘Frankly, I hadn’t reckoned to spend much time here. I had to see the cathedral, but the rest of the place gives me the glooms. All these relics of former splendours! Have you seen the university? It’d break your heart! And the poverty everywhere, the beggars … the way they cringe … I hate it!’
‘I know. But you can’t blame it all on the Austrians. It goes further back than that, if you ask me.’ He had been about to mention the evils of serfdom, remembered just in time that his new friend came from one of the slave-owning states of America, and held his peace as his man reappeared to usher in a pair of inn servants.
‘It’s a kind of stew, sir.’ The man’s tone was apologetic. ‘The best they can do, they say.’
‘Bigos,’ said the young American with relish. ‘My mother used to make it. You might as well eat the food of the country while you’re here, Mr. Rendel.’
‘Spare me the “Mister”.’ He was refilling their glasses. ‘And tell me where you are heading when you leave Cracow. I’m not hell-bent on staying here either; I mean to spend more time in Warsaw, so if by any chance you were going that way, maybe we could at least start off together, and I’ll teach you some useful German phrases as we go.’
‘Thanks! Yes, I’m going north too, to my cousin’s at Rendomierz.’ He coloured. ‘I’d like it very much if you would join me that far. And of course you must meet my cousin. I’m sure … that is, I don’t quite know …’
‘I’m a fool!’ Glynde interrupted him. ‘When you said cousin, I thought of a man. Well, one does. But, of course, it must be the Princess Sobieska. You’re here for the wedding! And she’ll have enough on her hands without entertaining a stray Englishman she’s never heard of. But I would most certainly like to meet her. They say she’s a great beaut
‘Drawing rather a long bow,’ said Jan. ‘But, yes, when we got news of my cousin’s marriage last fall, it was the feather that turned the balance. My father knew mother would have wanted me to come. Says he hopes a year or so here will cure me of my Polish mania, and from what I have seen so far, I think he’s likely right. But, what I don’t know is whether the marriage may not already have taken place; it was a while before I could get a ship, see. Father insisted I travel on one of his.’
‘I can set your mind at rest there.’ Rendel made a mental note that Jan Warrington was clearly the son of an affluent father. ‘The marriage contract seems to have presented various problems. Well, it most certainly is a dynastic alliance; the heiress of the Sobieskis with a man who claims the blood of the Jagiellos, that old, great, royal family.’
‘You do know your Polish history.’
‘I’ve tried.’ Deprecatingly. ‘It’s partly why I’ve rather made a set at you. A real live Pole. Well, Polish American. I’ve an eye to the diplomatic service, you see. A man must do something. I’ve money for my tailor – as you’ve remarked – left me by my mother, but that’s no reason for sitting idle. I’d meant to join the army, but a damned inconvenient wound I got at Valmy put paid to that idea.’
‘You were at Valmy?’
‘Yes. I’m not so good a son as you. I didn’t wait for my father’s consent. I’d have waited for ever! He meant me for the church. He doesn’t change his mind, my father.’ He ran an angry hand through fashionably cut fair hair. Even now, ten years later, the memory of that scene enraged him. ‘So I ran away, got myself taken on with the Duke of Brunswick’s staff. And a sad, mismanaged business that campaign was, I can tell you. The Duke’s a soldier; no diplomat.’
‘And you were wounded? You must have been a mere boy.’
‘Old enough to know what a fool I’d been as I lay there in the mud, with the rain pouring down. Not my cause, not my army … And nearly the end of me. Damn fool boy. Your glass is empty. It’s a long time since I thought about Valmy. Ten years ago! And how I’ve wasted them. Well, let’s not go into that. This fricassée is good. What did you call it?’