Monday, July 7, 2014

Dr Sandorius and the Resurrection Men - Chapter I: Arrivals

The Case of the Resurrection Men in The Natural Philosophy of Crime by Anton Smelchak, Strelzov, 1863

On the morning of August 27, 1832, I was called to the Ministry of Police for a ten o’’clock audience with the Minister himself. Now I always loathed going to the Ministry. It was in the Zagloba Prospekt District, the toniest, some would say snobbiest, area of the city. It was in an old “townhouse” palace of one of the Twelve Families, the Bombelles specifically, that had been seized by the government during the Revolution. Unfortunately, the officials of the Revolutionary government soon discovered that they enjoyed the rococo luxury of such places as much as the old nobility. After the Restoration of 1815,the Bombelles decided they didn’t want back a place that had been crawling with policemen unless the government paid for extensive fumigation which not being forthcoming, the palace remained as the Ministry.

Thus, for my audience, I had to traverse innumerable halls, dripping with gold leaf and cherubs until I came to the antechamber of the Minister’s office, only to be told by his unctuous secretary, Bergman, that the Minister’s previous audience was running long. I thus was forced to perch upon a delicate chair of ivory and silk for the next hour and a half while Bergman anxiously watched the large wall clock for the ever hastening time for his noon meal.

Finally at half past eleven, an attractive young woman in a state of some dishabille, emerged from the Minister’s inner sanctum, blushing prettily when her eyes caught mine. Now the Minister was one of those innumerable Counts Czirykoot, the largest of the Twelve Families, descended it was said from the legendary Sandorius’ satyrish apprentice. The family’s main contribution to the nation was graft, illegitimate children and a nasty social disease that proudly bore their name. Still this Count was not as bad as he could have been. Once his own pleasures had been seen to, he did have a modest interest in the work of the Ministry and once his many bills had been paid, there was occasionally some money left over for the expenses of the police.

Bergman indicated that I might enter and when I did so, the Minister was doing up his neckerchief in a mirror. He turned and greeted me expansively.

“Ah Smelchak, so good of you to come. I do apologize for the delay but, as you know, the Ministry is in charge of censorship and well there is a new play opening at National Theatre and so I had to hear sample reading to determine, you know, whether there is anything disrespectful or immoral or ah…”

“Your diligence is an inspiration to us all, Your Illustriousness.” I said, hoping to cut him short.

He looked at me sharply, the Czirykoots, whatever their faults, were not fools. “Yes, well, I have a special assignment for you. A real puzzler, right up your alley as I understand it. You see there is a missing Englishman, a baron of sorts, who was here for a time and then misplaced himself. There have been all manner of inquiry from their Consulate and now his wife is coming in person to see what’s become of him…So I want you to find him… and I want the Lady to be happy with our investigation.

A feeling of dread filled the pit of my stomach, a political case, with foreign involvement. Such cases had a way of ending one’s career and, in these troubled times, occasionally one’s life.

I tried to deflect the Minister, “Surely, Your Illustriousness, it would be better if Inspector Bersa handled the matter? After all, he’s in charge of the Zagloba Prospekt District, seat of foreign legations. He knows how to deal with the diplomatic…”

“Allow me to be frank, Inspector,” the Minister cut in. “I don’t’ particularly care if you find this gentleman or not. Likely as not, he was slumming and ended up stabbed by some pimp…”

The image of the wicked grin and sharp knife of Veliki Bezobrazan, Big Saucy, the city’s leading procurer flashed in my mind. Yes, definitely a possibility.

“…but what I do want to see is that this Lady Dalhousie is satisfied with our investigation. The Government is currently in negotiation for several loans from Britain. Some of that money will come to our Ministry, which, as you know is quite impoverished…”

I eyed the jewelry flashing on his fingers and silently noted that cost of the suit he was wearing would have paid for my district’s expenses for the better part of a year.

“…We don’t want anything upsetting these negotiations. You know as well as I that Bersa is an idiot, very good at toadying but worthless as a detective. I want this Lady impressed by our efficiency, even if we never find her damn husband. Keep her happy, informed, involved. You’re just the man to do that. Besides, the gentleman went missing from your district.”


“Yes, he had taken rooms at the University, one of the students’ halls in the School of Thaumaturgy. How he managed that I don’t know, given how few student they get the old wizards can likely spare the space and need the money. In any event, the Lady arrives tomorrow on the public coach from Slavna. Bergman can give you the details. Also, you’ll need a conveyance to take the Lady around on your investigation. I understand that you’ve lost your official carriage.”

“Yes, Your Illustriousness. It was blown up, the Mad Bomber case?

“That was you? How did it turn out?”

“The defendant was hanged last Thursday, Your Illustriousness.”

“Good show! Bergman will make arrangements for you to be assigned another. Thank you, Inspector, best of luck. Oh, on your way out, there should be, in the anteroom, another …ah…”

“Censorship subject?”

“Exactly, do ask her to come right in.”

There was indeed another young lady waiting. I told her that the Minister was waiting. After she left, I realized that Bergman was nowhere to be found. I waited another half an hour and then went in search of him. As I walked the halls, I encountered over a dozen Ministry clerks, all of whom were either sleeping or drunk, many both. I returned to the antechamber to await Bergman.

Twenty minutes later, he weaved unsteadily into the room, reeking of sour wine and plum brfnish.

“Ban Inshpector? He still hashn’t seen you?”

“He has Ban Bergman.”

“Then you know about the case?”

“The minister said you would provide me the details.”

“Right. That’s IMPORTANT!” Bergman sat down at his desk and leaned to peer into a drawer filled with files. He promptly fell asleep.

When I roused him, he blinked a few times and asked, “Ban Smelchak? He still hashn’t seen you?”

“He has! You are to give me the case information as well as making arrangements for a new conveyance for me.” With some difficulty, I managed to get Bergman to actually perform his job. He gave me a single page report of a missing person two weeks old and a crumpled requisition script for a new carriage.

“Take the requisition to the porter, he will bring your vehicle round.”

“Thank you, Ban Bergman. By the way, the Minister said after you finished with me, he wanted to see you immediately, just go right in.”

As I walked down the hall, I heard a female scream and the Minister’s angry shouts.

I took the requisition to the porter and in only an additional half an hour, my new conveyance was brought round. Instead of a carriage, it was prisoner van, in horrible repair, driven by the oldest policeman I had ever met and two nags who were probably older than the driver.

The driver, one Bogacz, asked if I wanted to ride in the lockup or hang on the rail on the rear. I saw there was no room on the driver’s box and said I would use the rail, there being no danger since the horses could scarce manage a speed above baby’s crawl.

I had plenty of time to examine the report, sparse as it was. It simple stated the one James, Baron Dalhousie, temporarily lodged at Sendigovius Hall, College of Alchemy and Thaumaturgy, etc., University of Strelzov, had failed to appear for his monthly call upon the British Consul. He was last seen by the Factotum of College on the 1st of August.

I had hoped to begin inquiries that day. However, I was required to stop at my police station. In those days, there were no entrance examinations and no training for a policeman save what he could obtain once he had been taken onto the force. The pay was low and dangers, especially in the Svenkta Methodi high so it did not attract the highest quality of recruit. As a result, the majority of my policemen were less than useless.

When my wagon pulled up in front of the station, Sergeant Loncar and two officer rushed to “take in the prisoners.” They seemed most disappointed since one of the few supplements to their meagre pay was obtained from robbing incoming prisoners.

“Sorry to disappoint you, Loncar.” I said.

“That’s alright, sir,” was his response, “We don’t have the keys to the cells anyway. You see, the dog ate the master key and, while Dr. Vlasic gave it some laxative, things haven’t…worked themselves out.”

“What happened to the regular set of cell keys?” I asked dreading the answer.

“Oh, well, a couple of days ago, Gendarme Drago left them in his trousers by accident when he left work. He stopped off for a drink, and one thing led to another and…someone stole his pants.”

“They stole his pants! Are you telling me that not only is one of my policeman so inept as to get his pants stolen but he lets the keys to our entire station fall into the hands of a pickpocket.”

"Oh, no, sir. Not a pickpocket, a pimp! He was with one of Big Saucy’s girls when he lost them. By the way, sir, we were holding some of the girls so Big Saucy sent one of his men over. Do worry, he them out himself. Are you feeling well, Ban Inspektor? You look unwell?”

Letter from Lady Euphemia Dalhousie to Miss Elspeth Dalhousie, 28 August 1832

Miss Elspeth Dalhousie, Spinster
Ossian Hall
Cranliarch, Scotland

Mah Dear Sister-in-law,

I hae arrived in Strelzov after thee day by public coach and I may note what a gantin' state the roads, the public transport, the inns, and the country in general are in. But far warst is the fact that they charged me a good five crowns for the crabbit three days I spent in their vermin-infested ox cart that passed as an excuse for a coach and four. Plus they wanted half again as much for my gypsy tae ride atop.

Now I wish tae mention the gypsy. Her name is some sort of heathenish tripe, Tsoora or some sich, so I hae called her a proper name, Sarah. She has quite the faculty with tongues which has come in quite handy as the natives, thrawn gits that they be, insist they cannae kin a word of English. On the other hand, she claims nae knowledge of Hindi. As I’ve heard that her folk originally came frae India, I took this merely as part a her mysterioos gypsy ways and continued tae address in her native tongue at every opportunity.

Fortunately, I had only a single companion on the trip, a yoong Pole, named John Nilma. He spoke stoat French and sae we conversed tae fill the tedious hours of the trip. He had served in their army in the late rebellion against the Roossians and is gonnae enroll in the University at Strelzov. He is a forthrecht and frank cheil with nae two bob tae rub together. He is poor yit proud, as he insists on telling any as gets within ear-shot but otherwise is pleasant enaw. The only trooble we encoonter was at the border tae Ruritania itself. Now, Kravonia where I had disembarked is ruled by the king of Ruritania but this is only a dynastic matter. In all other respects, it is a separate nation from Ruritania.

Thus we must pass a customs post upon gonnae into Ruritania proper. Now this post was centered upon a pitch-makers hut in the midst of a pine forest through which th'eroad ran. A good dozen or more pug uglies in hoddin blue uniforms and black shakos manned the post. These belonged tae the National Guard, nae the regular army, and from what I came tae learn, they were bully wee jimmies used tae break up demonstrations and the like. Most bore poor musketoons but I noticed, perched near a large barrel of pork, a single keen fellow pointing a shooting rifle, primed and cocked, in our direction. We’d nae be running past this outpost.

The coach was halted and we were all ordered tae display our passports to an officer who sat at a desk near the hut door. He was in the way of letting us pass when up rides a big numptie in a green jackit and gave a look tae yoong Johnny Polack as if he were the taxman come early. When the Roosian, for such her proved to be saw that Johnny had a Papal passport, he having last come from Rome, they began tae argue in tongue that was all shushes and croaks. It sound like loch th' cheil was tae be huckled.

So I took up my Fanzoy Ischler hunting rifle, which I always keep close at hand and exclaimed tae the Gypsy lassie, “I’ll hae none of that! Sarah, idderao! I need you to act the munshi. We have to save the young huzoor from these haramzadas! Jaldi!”

The obstinate lass stared at me a bit but when I shouted louder at her that brought her running. My shouts also brought us tae the attention of the Roossian donkey walloper who claimed young Johnny was a revolutionary.

“Well I am,” said Johnny, “I am proud of having fought for liberty. However, I would prefer not be hung right now. I have an idea. Tell him that I am your prisoner, that’s why you have gun."

It seemed a bapit idea but one never knows what these foreigners will believe. Now I hae learned since I was a wee girl that the best way tae get natives tae do your bidding is act as if one is on first-name basis with the Laird Almighty and He will come gie ye a skelp on the ear if ye dinae do what I say.

This proved to be the case with this Roosian. In nae time at all, he was ordering those pug uglies tae tend tae our every need, even gave us a couple pairs to protect us on the way to Strelzov.

When I asked if he could find us a better conveyance than his coopon beemed with Muscovitish glee. He ordered the coach burned, the drive flogged and the cuddie mare made into glue. Now I asked him to relent, at least on the part of the poor cuddie and he did so. He gae over the hut tae our use whilst he rounded up the next vehicle.

This turned up after an hour or sae. As fortune would hae it, it proved tae be a Gypsy wagon, and a bonnie braw red and yellow thing it was. It was packing an older man and his two grown sons. Sarah made out that the father was her uncle or some such and he played along, nae doubt not entirely sure if she micht be so in fact. Of course he claimed he was some sort of Gypsy king as their elders usually do and his name was Zoltan.

In a thrice then, we were on our way, with the Roosian spouting about what an honor it was tae hae been of service and best ay luck in my courageous venture. Mind, he did sneak a swatch at my diddies while he said so. I suppose I should of shot him for that but ye can’t expect too much from boggin foreigners, or the Welch for that matter.

The next two days came easy as rain and we arrived in Strelzov late this afternoon. There was a large square in the center of the city that had been our original stop. When we arrived there was a decrepit police van awaiting. I jumped at the chance and told the Guardsman that I would turn over my prisoner tae the police. They smiled and chattered and bowed as a body would expect and said that if I needed anything, anything at all, I should inquire at the National Guard barracks on the edge of town.

As it turned out, there were a couple of scruffy student, one a grease-spotted engineering type and the other some sort of Italianate Jessie, waiting to take Johnny to University. I wished him well and offered a small bit of cash to tide him over. This he refused and he offered that should I need anything I had but to ask at the College of Thaumaturgy.

Now by serendipity, the police wagon had been there tae greet me, a serious fellow in impressively striped pants introduced himself, “I am Inspector Smelchak and will do all I can to to find your dear husband.

“Spellnap laddie, he micht be my husband, but he’s nae one’s ‘dear.’ I must dae find him nonetheless. “

Afore the puzzled policeman could remark, Old Zoltan starts in with a stating bit of the bowing and scraping, offering to be of service to the Inspector, saying he and his sons could do many braw services for the public at large, given the freedom of the city.

Spellnap replied with some dungeon, “Here is my offer, stay out of my district and no one will be locked up.” More kindly, he suggested they try the area under the control of some chap named Bersa for a better reception.

With the Gypsie and students gone, Spellnap, who was a grim fellow and full of the proprieties, apologized for having such a lowly conveyance.

He added, “The Ministry has made accommodations for you at the Hotel Royal, one of the finest and most expensive hostelries in the city.”

I noted the distaste in his voice when he mentioned the cost and thought, we shall get along fine Inspector…

Excerpt from A Man of Many Talents, The Memoirs of Ratko Fisztics

The Factotum business at the University was a fine job. I had the running of the place, and, given the, shall I call it, otherworldliness of the faculty of the College of Thaumaturgy, I had sole call on all matters material including how best to spend the annual budget. Now, lest you think ill of me, there had been a high cost to purchase me the position and I had to repay the loan of it. That’s why I took every opportunity to shave off some cash from the College’s operating expenses. After all, I worked very hard and no one could complain of the services, both legal and not, that I provided to faculty and student. I considered the money I took a gratuity, paid in advance.

In the autumn of 1832, I had worked Professor Joao Mercurio for over a year so I knew he was a strange man. One would expect the Dean of the School of Thaumaturgy and Alchemy to be mysterious and aloof so I did not usually question his actions and certainly not his motives. That is until he invited Jan Milna to the University. As you shall see it was his arrival that marked the beginning of all the trouble that was to come.

As I had related in a previous chapter, I had met the young Pole’s father briefly in Russia and had been there at his death. I had however quite forgotten the father’s name despite having kept the man’s ancient sword, a weapon that proved very useful on certain occasions, as I shall soon relate.

I should be forgiven for this lapse of memory since our meeting was so brief and he was far out-shadowed by my other companion of the time, the Great Sandorius. I met him the same time, on the road back from Moscow in that terrible retreat. As an aside, I suppose I was the last person to see Sandorius alive. The odd thing was that we had reached safety, had crossed the Niemen back into Lithuania and seemingly nothing stood between us and the safety and comfort of Vilnius than the walk. He was beside me one moment, cradling the little infant he had rescued - he had used some sorts of potions he carried to keep the little thing alive, what they contained I cared not to think about - and then the next moment he and the child were gone. I caught one glimpse of a dark figure heading off into the swirling snow. Of course the wolves caught up with us shortly after and I had more trouble hanging on to my own neck than worrying about him. Thank God for that sword.

In any event, the first inkling I had of the son’s arrival was being told by Mercurio to have someone fetch young Milna, a refugee soldier who would be enrolled. Now why a soldier should seek to study theories of magic I could not imagine but it merely meant that I had one more sheep to sheer. Then I noticed that he was to be enrolled on an honorarium. Damn! That meant he was a pauper most likely, hardly worth the effort to sheer.

I didn’t feel it deserved my personal attention so I sent Topicz and Sufflay. The former was a hulking Leutonian bruiser studying Applied Thaumaturgies, the art of making magically-powered machines. In Topicz’ case this mostly consisted of creating pointless gimcracks and device more useful to an arsonist than a sorcerer. The latter was a flighty Sylvanian who claimed to be an alchemist supreme but had all of the magical talent of a stage magician at the Tuesday matinee. Both lept at the chance to meet this supposed Hero of Liberty, they being dedicated revolutionaries.

They brought him back that evening. When I saw him I realized who he was, he being the spitting image of his father. So it was in something of a muddle that I saw him enrolled and his lodging assigned.

I decided to put him in with the two prknos. They were assigned to a small double room in Sendagovius Hall, I figured, as he had been a soldier, one berth was a good as another and their room would rather cozy. I certainly wasn’t going to evict any of the paying guests.

(Translator's Note: Prkno is the Ruritanian word for a pig's anus, a very severe insult or, in parts of Leutonia, a delicacy.)

Now the College of Thaumaturgy had been in decline ever since the Revolution and even before, magic being so unfashionable. The Edict of ’27 banning the practice of magic put the capstone on it since who would want to study such a hard and difficult subject when their wasn’t a chance of getting a pretty girl to love you or of stopping your neighbor’s cow from giving milk. There was plenty of room in the Ole Para’ as it was called and plenty who thought having a University address the height of otmyenya.

(Translator's Note: Otmyenya means a showy display of class and refinement with implications of noveau riche boorishness.)

With that all done, we set off to have Milna meet the Dean. Crossing the street, I was accosted by a dread figure in black, a Postman.

“Are you Ratko Fisztic?”

“Who wants to know?”

“I am Postal Inspector No. 12. If you refuse to answer, what leg do you want broken.”

In something of panic at the sudden turn in my day, I looked about and saw old Professor Shnur of the Philosophy College ruminating on the corner.

“His leg,” I said. And damn me if the Postman didn’t send one of his two minions over to the Professor. The blackbird then pulled out heavy steel truncheons and proceeded to break the old man’s femur. Despite having deflected the injury on another, the shear pointless ruthlessness and casual brutality chilled me through and through, as it was meant to do.

“I’m Fisztic.”

“We caught this girl distributing revolutionary pamphlets today. She claims to be your daughter.”

It was only then that I notice they had Nikolina with them in chains. Now I was never rightly sure if she was my daughter. She didn’t look anything like me and her mother and I had never been a couple for more than a few hours at a time. I must insist however that Carlotta Mukchush was never a whore. She had been a camp follower of the army, a laundress primarily. Of course she occasional earned some extra cash from more …colorful services. She had been pretty and resourceful and quite brave when needed. She stood next to me in the firing line coming back from Russia on one occasion. After we had got back, being some of the few who returned from the frozen horror, we did occasional have a drink and rattle together for old times’ sake. So I had something of soft spot for her and, after she died, I did occasionally help Nikolina out. She probably was my daughter but I never admitted it directly. Didn’t want the girl to get airs after all.

“Under the Royal Decree of 1384, if she is your daughter, she’s family to University staff and falls outside of civil jurisdiction. If not, she goes to… the Post Office for questioning.

Knowing what that meant, I reluctantly agreed and they released her into my custody. Not before warning that a new Edict was being prepared by the Regents’ Council that word permit the shooting without trial of any caught directly taking revolutionary action.

“I only said that to save your life. And we’ll talk later about doing such stupid things. If you’re going to get executed for revolution, try an assassination or something at least worthwhile. The only thing a pamphlet is useful for is to wrap old fish in.”

So we set off, a veritable Royal Birthday parade with me, Nikolina, Milna and the two dumpling heads. As we approached Paracelsus Hall, where Mercurio's offices were located, there was a loud whirring and clanking and up the street came von Elphburg's self-moving wagon.

He and the machine were the talk of Strelzov. Herr Doktor Gelimer von Elphburg was the chief assistant to the Dean of the College of Medicine, Chirurgical Science, and Hairdressing. But more than that, he was a scion of that famous dynasty that once ruled Graustark, that Gothic state that once was the terror of this part of the Balkans but was now, since the Wars, was reduced to a mere province of Austria. If she had been independent, Geli von Elphberg had a good claim to be her king. Failing that, he had turned to be a doctor to the rich and famous.

The vehicle itself, a small three wheel cabriolet, that while sleek was ordinary save for it being able to run without horses, powered by some sort of secret Galvanic engine. This vehicle was called the locomotive carriage by its creator the Dean of Medicine, Herr Doktor Dippel Dippel was a transplanted Rhinelander who I suspected was running from a hanging as an abortionist. Dippel dabbled in all sorts of things like galvanics which he claimed could cure most diseases, and phrenology which he claimed could be used to identify and control the criminal mind. Mercurio, who despised the little faker said that Dippel was an expert in mesmerism since that was the only way his patients would believe the rot he stated about his "cures."

Von Elphberg was a perfect aide for him. Foppish in dress and manner and arrogant beyond measure, he was the perfectly insufferable aristocrat; it made me regret Old Leopold's decision not to introduce the guillotine during the Revolution.

Apparently, Nikolina, who was an uncommonly pretty girl, attracted the attention of the swine-hearted mirror-grazer.

The door to the vehicle was opened by a footman and von Elphburg called out, "Hello, pretty one, would you care for a ride in locomotionator?"

Nikolina refused and I felt a strange warm feeling in my chest. Could it be pride, I shivered at the thought.

Von Elphburg grew huffy, "There are Duchesses who pine for a ride with me."

"Well Duchesses tend to be most easily had so that's not a conquest to boast of, Herr Cockchafer," I said.

Von Elphburg bridled and said he didn't care for my tone. To which I replied "Yes, well, I don't like your smell, but I guess we both have to get used to disappointment."

At this he called for his carriage to move on, shouting back that he would complain to the University Chancellor over my insolence.

Good luck with that senile old strutterer, I thought but I also noted in my mind that he had just earned himself a place on The List.

I told her that she was playing it quite right with von Elphburg, with the hard-to-get scheme. Keeping him panting like this, she might be able to wheedle a few thousand out of him for a couple nights in his four-poster.

"O no, papa. I would never do such a thing. I am virgin."

It was some minutes later that I realized Sufflay was trying to rouse me from a near-stupor with smelling salts. "I thought she said she was still a virgin, I mean she's at least nineteen and was raised in the Sventka Methodi."

"O yes, papa. I am saving myself for my first love, the theatre!"

"Yes, because if there's one thing the theatre world wants most, it’s a virgin actress." I said, "On the other hand, the novelty of it might be worth something."

We finally arrived at Mercurio's chambers, all of us, Milna and his postillions and the Family Fisztic. Mercurio greeted the young man warmly and spoke about what course of studies Milna should undertake. It was some several minutes before he noticed cloud of hangers-on crowding his door. Of course, I was necessary as Factotum and Registrar while the Brothers Dim where no doubt soon to be Milna's bosom chums. Why Nikolina lingeed I had no guess until I notice a particular gleam in her eye as she gazed adoringly at Milna. So much for virginity I thought.

These thoughts were interrupted by another female voice crying, "Papa!"

We parted before this force of nature as Mercurio's daughter, Elisabete swept into the room oblivious to rest of us. She was a striking tall beauty with startling blue eyes and golden hair. Although only nineteen, she had the entire faculty, especially her father, wrapped around her little finger.

"Papa, finally! I must tell you I must have a new riding instructor. Ban Tovay won't teach me properly. How can I ever become a proper equestrienne if he keeps treating me like a child?"

At this, Milna saw his opening and offered, "Why dear lady, do forgive my intruding but I know something of riding. I would be happy to give you instruction." He said this to her with the same gleam in his eye that I had just seen in Nikolina and I thought with satisfaction that Mercurio also had something to worry about.

After proper introductions were exchanged, Banna Mercuria eyed Milna appraisingly for a while and decided she liked what she saw. So when Milna explained he had served in the Polish lancers, she positively burbled, "Oh Papa! How perfect! Everyone knows there are no better horsemen than the Poles. Papa you must hire him at once."

"He has just enrolled, he will have studies," said Mercurio through gritted teeth. A vein throbbed in his forehead as the battle between fatherly protectiveness and indulgence was waged in his mighty brain.

I intervened, "Perhaps Ban Milna could take on two pupils? My daught--, I mean little Nikolina here would surely like to learn how to ride." I quietly told Mercurio that nothing dampens a romance than to have a rival keeping watch on their every move.

He seemed pleased, "Very well, I paid Tovay five atvaras a week."

Banna Mercuria interrupted, "And of course, Ban Milna is worth at least double that. Also as you said, he was wounded in the cause of liberty in his home. That's worth at least two more a week…Perhaps maybe half that from Ban Fisztic?"

Before either Mercurio or I could turn apoplectic, Milna jumped in, "Why no gracious lady, a gentleman could never accept money for such an honor." Then the snotty tobdzija has the gall to turn to me and say, "Pan Fisztic, a most generous payment for which I am very grateful."

Before I could brain him, Banna Mercuria sparkled, "It's all settle then. Meet me here at 8:00 o'clock tomorrow morning, we shall ride in Czirykoot Park by the Royal Castle. Oh, Nikolina, it will be so nice to have a friend along. I shall bring a horse for you, Primavera, a lovely gentle little mare. And Pan Milna," she emphasized her use of the Polish form, "I do hope your horse is a spirited one. I shall expect you to impress me!"

And she swept from the room, leaving the penniless Milna shocked with the thought of how he would get a horse by the morning. I left him to stew.

A couple of hours later, Topicz asked me come to their rooms to help Milna with his problem. I said I would come but let them wait another hour.

When I arrive, I was given the Prodigal's welcome with them pulling out some of Sufflay's Sylvanian vintage. They praised me to the hilt for how resourceful I was and so forth. Nothing I enjoy more than a good session of toadying when I am the object.

Finally, I said, "You need a horse? I can get one but it shan't be easy. First, we can forget about me paying for Nikolina's lessons. Second, you will owe me a favor, anything I ask, that won't be dishonorable, of course at the time I ask. Agreed?"
Well the pumpkin was so ripe by then he readily agreed, shaking my hand and telling that he could never repay me.

As I left, it vaguely occurred to me that he had been wearing a uniform.

I knew most of the stables in town and didn't think it would be ethical to take a horse from them since I owed most of them money. Then I remembered hearing that a new Russian cavalry unit had just arrived and had been put up in the old Ostoya barracks on the edge of the city.

A short while later I was at the barracks. It's shocking how the discipline of a peace-time army deteriorates. I handily sneaked past the lone sentry who was barely awake. When I entered the barracks stable the only groom on duty was lying drunkenly asleep in a horse stall. So I took the best horse I could find, likely the Colonel's and proclaimed myself a patriot. I came out as easily as I had come, horse and all. Shocking.

Milna, et al exclaimed in wonder at my resourcefulness. I was almost embarrassed at how easy it had been.

The next morning Nikolina appeared in my rooms. She was dressed in the most godawful-looking get-up I had ever seen, something one would see on a clown rider at a circus.

"Where did you get….THAT?" I asked.

"I had to sneak some things out of the theatres where I work sometimes as a seamstress. I thought it looked …fashionable."

Then it occurred that her looking ridiculous was the best way to keep the Milnas off. "You look lovely," I said.

I had just sighed in relief when Banna Mercuria swept in, "Oh my dear Nikolina, I am so sorry but your outfit is just not quite right. The riders at the Czirykoot can be so cruel, I don't want to see you embarrassed. And of course, all of the theatre owners and sponsors ride there, it may be your great opportunity! Don't worry I know a dress shop along the way, a bit expensive, but I am sure we can get you an absolutely wonderful riding frock. Oh and you will need boots, of course and a hat and …"

I had told Nikolina that I wanted a full report from her on what happened on their lesson. According to her, after their shopping expedition, on the ride to the Park they discussed their individual histories. She gushed at Milna's heroics as apparently did Banna Mercuria. When it turned to relating her own history, she talked about her childhood in Brazil. When she began talking about castles and pine forests, even Nikolina, who had only the vaguest idea of Southern America, mostly from cheap operettas, began to wonder whether her new friend was mad. Then she mentioned the fairies. Of course Milna found it all endearing.

Before they could inquire further, a Russian cavalry officer rode over to them. Milna had actually been wearing his Polish Army uniform to impress The Mercuria. He hastily doffed the coat and big square hat but to no avail. The Russian recognized his Colonel's stolen horse. Somehow, Milna and the two ladies charmed the Russian and convinced them that he had innocently borrowed from the University. When the Russian asked from who he had obtained the horse, Milna hesitated before finally coming up with the name "von Elphburg."

I knew I liked the boy then…

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