Chapter 17: Woes of the Rich
Wolf was keenly aware of the financial situation of Count Sosnowski. The economic situation in Poland, together with his daughter’s illness, had depleted his reserves.
The maintenance of the mansion had long been neglected and many of the palace servants and employees had been dismissed. In many places the plaster on the walls was peeling, the roof leaked in various spots, the rose garden and lawns had grown wild, the fish pond was filled with aquatic plants and other vegetation, and the swans had expired in last winter’s frost.
Inside the palace, the state rooms were still maintained properly. The furniture and the paintings on the wall were in quite good condition.
Certain traditions were still strictly observed. Teatime at five in the afternoon was not abolished and was carried out faithfully. Countess Janina would brew the finest Russian tea with a mixture of berries and a tablespoon of sugar, and would slowly pour it from the samovar into clear crystal glasses. On the table she placed a round silver bowl covered with red velvet cloth filled with her homemade pastries.
Family members would gather, meeting near the cozy fireplace in the winter and on the terrace facing the garden and lawn in the summer. It was a social gathering attended by only family members who lived on the estate. Non-family members were never permitted at these meetings.
The meeting this afternoon was very different. To this meeting Wolf, the adviser and loyal confidant of Count Jan Sosnowski, was invited.
Wolf, who arrived fifteen minutes before the meeting, entered the gate of the estate and parked his car in front of the building. The count came out to meet him and greeted him warmly as they shook hands. On the way to the conference room he whispered into his ear and said, “Don’t divulge the true picture of the situation. I do not want to upset the countess more than is necessary.”
This was Wolf’s first visit to the count’s home since his daughter had died. Although several months had already elapsed since her death, it was obvious that the household was still in mourning. The curtains were drawn and one could barely see into the rooms. The fireplace located in the enormous living room, spreading cozy warmth throughout the house, was the main source of light.
As the other members of the household began to arrive Wolf rose to greet them. When Count Ostrowski, Jan’s brother-in-law, who also lived on the estate, arrived, Wolf bowed to him and kissed the hand of his wife. When everybody was seated Countess Janina served tea to all those present.
While everybody was sipping steaming hot tea, Count Jan opened the meeting.
“You all know my loyal adviser, Attorney Wolf Nachimzon, who was kind enough to come here today and advise us about the current situation and present us with various options. Let us welcome him and afford him our undivided attention.”
Wolf was a bit nervous. Signs of paralysis were still noticeable in his right hand, although it was functioning. He put his tea glass down on the table, removed a thick ring binder from his briefcase and placed it on the table in front of him. Holding a wooden ruler and a pencil in one hand he thumbed through some pages with the other and was ready to begin.
“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Let me begin with the most difficult subject, which is the current financial situation, then afterwards I will discuss all options open to us. At present, we are experiencing a huge deficit. The situation is very bleak and getting worse from month to month. The purpose of this meeting is to try to find ways of stopping the financial hemorrhaging.”
“What is the cause of the deficit?” Count Ostowski asked.
“The largest expenditures came from the treatment of the count’s daughter Bozena. Maintenance of the palace, servants, personal expenses of the occupants of the palace and taxes have all increased in the last years, while the income of the palace has dropped significantly over the last two years,” replied Wolf.
“How do you propose to stabilize the situation?” Count Ostrowski asked.
Wolf looked at the blank facial expression of Count Sosnowski and replied. “I suggest taking a ten-year loan. During that time you will be able to reduce your personal expenses as well as the expenses of the palace, and slowly eliminate the debt as revenues will hopefully begin to increase. It is advisable to put aside a fixed amount every month to be used to repay the loan.”
Now it was Count Ostrowski’s turn to respond.
“I recommend that we sell some assets and not burden ourselves with too many loans. The Jews make loans but the interest they charge can be a real burden. There are those among them who know that borrowers do not have the ability to repay the loan and are just waiting to foreclose, and as a result the property is transferred to the Jewish thieves. Forgive me Mr. Wolf, but that is the way I feel.”
Wolf was taken aback by Count Ostrowski’s comments and his face turned pale. He quickly recovered and addressed the count and said, “Excuse me, honorable Count, but do you know of any Polish institutions or individuals that would be willing to lend money in today’s economic situation?”
The count turned red with anger but did not respond. Instead he just looked down and said nothing.
Count Sosnowski, seeing the exchange between Wolf and Count Ostrowski, decided it was time to intervene before all was lost.
“Mr. Wolf,” he began. “It is not from yesterday that we know each other. Not only are you my trusted advisor, but I consider you one of my closest friends. Do not take the words of Count Ostrowski to heart. He is not used to dealing with money and therefore he is not aware of the situation we are in or how to handle it. I am sure that you will easily find us a fair and suitable loan.”
Wolf heard the words of flattery from the count and knew his true intentions, but did not hold a grudge against him. To the contrary, he even liked him.
For a moment, Wolf considered telling all those in attendance to go to hell and just leave, but he thought better of it and decided to respond to Count Sosnowski’s remark and ignore the rest of the group.
“Honorable Count,” he began. “I appreciate your comments and I am glad that you consider me as one of your trusted friends. That being the case, I will obtain a loan for you with easy repayment terms. I will go to Warsaw tomorrow and return with a loan agreement for you to sign.”
Wolf got up from the comfortable chair he was sitting in and bowed to the all those assembled.
“I’ll see myself out,” he said and walked out; no-one else got up.
Wolf decided to help Count Sosnowski, despite feeling hurt by the anti-Semitic remarks of Count Ostrowski. He still saw Jan Sosnowski as a true friend. He remembered the gold chain that he sent when Lilly was born, the games of bridge they played every week, the walks along the River Pilica and the heart-to-heart conversations they had with each other. He knew how emotionally hurt the count was over the death of his daughter and the support he needed.
A few days after returning from Kielce, where he had gone to check on a number of businesses and look at their balance sheets, he went to the bank of his friend, Janusz Fichtman, which was close to the pharmacy owned by Bitoft, father of Lolek.
“Attorney Wolf, what brings you to us?” Janusz asked.
“Pan Fichtman, if I said that I have come to have tea with you would you believe me?” Wolf replied.
“No. You surely came to ask for a loan” Janusz responded.
“So you know the reason for my visit,” Wolf replied with a smile.
“I am also sure that it is not for you,” Fichtman commented.
“Once again, you are right,” Wolf responded.
“So, let me hear what it is all about,” Fichtman said.
“Before I continue, I must insist that this conversation remains strictly confidential. You may not divulge the purpose of my visit to anybody,” Wolf said earnestly.
“As a banker, it is imperative that I remain discreet,” Fichtman answered.
“Well, that being said, I need a loan for Count Sosnowski of one hundred thousand zlotys,” Wolf said.
“Boze Moje, My God,” the banker said as he clapped his hands. “What will happen if the nobility in Poland is wiped out as happened in Russia, who will be responsible for the return of the money?” the banker asked.” Are you willing to guarantee the loan?”
“I am not a guarantor for anybody nor do I earn anything from the deal. I am just trying to help the family of the count, who find themselves in financial trouble. It also affords you the opportunity to make some money. I did not turn to a Polish Catholic bank, but rather came straight to you,” Wolf replied.
“Very nice, but I still need further reassurance. Either you or somebody else guarantees the loan or there is a pledge of assets,” said the banker.
“Without taking a risk there is no chance to make a profit,” Wolf said. “Sorry, but the only one who can guarantee the loan is the count himself.”
“If so, look for somebody else. I am not prepared to take the risk,” the banker responded.
Wolf left the bank very disappointed, even though in his heart he knew that the banker was right. If he were a banker, he would never lend money to a nobleman who was in financial difficulty and whose status was unstable, especially without a guarantor.
Before returning to the count’s palace to tell him the not-such-good news, Wolf made one more attempt. He decided to travel to Warsaw to meet his brother-in-law, Moses Wolowelski.
He found Moses in a very depressed mood. It has been several months since he last heard anything from Adam in Italy. Jerzy was no longer attending school, because he was ill with whooping cough and was presently in Switzerland for treatment. His mother had gone there to be with him.
Wolf told Moses the reason for the unannounced visit and that he was looking for a loan for the count.
“Wolf,” Moses began. “I appreciate your request. But please be honest with me. If I were to give him the loan, what are the chances that I will get my money back? The way I understand the situation, he does not have the wherewithal ever to pay it back. What will I do? Sue him? Send debt collectors after him?”
Wolf did not answer; he just sat there and looked down. He knew that the count would not be able to repay the loan and then Moses would blame him for getting him into this mess.
“Look Wolf, I understand your desire to help the count obtain a loan. I have an idea. Go and tell him that you secured a loan for him, but the lender wants some kind of security. His signature on a promissory note will not suffice. The security he is looking for is in the form of jewelry, works of art and other valuables. If he refuses, that is his problem. You have done your part and procured the loan in cash that he was seeking.”
“Moses, you are a true businessman,” Wolf proclaimed. “I knew that you would help me find a solution. You are right, it is not necessary to take risks.”
While two of them were sitting and talking, David came into the house. When he saw his father, he ran over and hugged him tightly. He wanted to shake Moses’ hand, but Moses drew him closer and gave him a hug too.
“You are like a son to me,” Moses said. He then turned to Wolf and said, “Do you know that David comes to visit me nearly every day. What would I do without him?”
David had brought with him a letter that he had received from Adam, but he asked Moses not to read it. “It is very personal,” David said.
Moses pressured him to read it and in the end David relented and began to read it aloud.
It’s been a while since I last heard anything from home. In truth, time passes by so quickly, that between studies and entertainment there is not time to think. Gorgeous Rosie drives me mad and I am desperately in love with her. You should only see those long and enthusiastic kisses she gives me. I stand no chance of going beyond that point with her. She made it perfectly clear to me that she is safeguarding her virginity for the one who will marry her. I happen to agree with her and would do the same. Her parents love me and I spend lots of time at their home. I miss the family atmosphere so I really enjoy going to them. Especially as her mother makes delicious gnocchi with meat sauce and tomatoes. I have become addicted to it. As you can see, I am not lacking food and love. I will soon be finishing my second year of school and will be coming home for the long summer vacation. Miss you all very much.
Moses smiled and thanked David for agreeing to read the letter to him.
“Adam is similar to me in many ways. He is red-headed as I am, likes women and entertainment like I do, makes quick decision, is boastful and arrogant just like me.
“He inherited all my bad traits,” he said laughingly. “He will manage well in life, as he knows exactly what he wants,” Moses continued.
“Please let me know what the count decided, so that I can prepare the money for the loan.” He then told Wolf that he should sleep over at his house, as he had plenty of room.