Hanna Vodolska assures us that, even if unforeseen, the four gowns will be ready in time and fixes the first fitting for the next day. Her task accomplished, my grandmother brings me straight home, retires for a well-deserved nap and I am released with a suggestion to do anything reasonable I wish. Following her advice, I instruct Mary I am not at home for anybody with no exception and walk up to my room to cram for the history exam, keen to delve into the depths of the past and leave my trenchant present behind.
Not that the 17th century was a great time to live in! The common people had to feed mostly on roots, grass, earth and other ghastly things that bloated their bellies and put them out of their misery short but not sweet. Worlds apart, the rich went berserk from overeating. A normal dinner consisted then of fifteen courses, if not more, and was washed down with plenty of liquor. Even among the nobility hygiene was practically none. The poor dears were crawling with vermin, especially lice that transmitted the ravages of disease among totally opposed social classes. Consequently, they fell like flies before they reached forty. Thus Egon would be gone the way of all flesh by now, and one of my problems, a minor one, to be honest, would be dealt with.
Starvation and over-feeding were not the sole causes of depopulation. To top the Black Death et cetera, there was syphilis and other sexually transmittable diseases, making love a high risk game. Does syphilis still exist? I’d better ask around discreetly. Bessie might know; but it would be dumb to ask advice about such an explosive matter from my rival number one. She would tell Milan for sure and add some juicy details to discredit me. Maybe even tell him I have got it! I pinch myself for this extempore and glue my eyes upon the text.
Women of low origins had to bring forth yearly and carry on with their work the same day they gave birth. Life wasn’t much kinder to the blue-blooded ladies get married still before they were fifteen by some lecherous Methuselah impregnating them right on their wedding night with sickly children who died mostly right away.
Compared to this my problems are very small indeed, especially if I renounce on falling in love in the future and rise above those passing fancies as a fully-fledged scientist or writer, eventually. My father will be delighted to sponsor my education; well-spent money according to his taste. Even if I don’t become a banker, a scholar will still mean a lot for him. Especially if compared to a whimsical socialite. I’ll ask my grandfather about the particulars. He used to study at the best Universities in his own grand way.
“Without ever finishing a single one!” My father likes to point out.
“A gentleman doesn’t study to prove himself but to gain the knowledge of his inner self. Only a vulgar, profit-seeking parvenu takes advantage of learning to collect diplomas in order to climb up the social ladder!” I hear his counter-attack.
Better not let anyone know the reason of my strive for higher education which is to shake off my unholy trinity plus one, and escape their pathetic drive to make me to their own “one and only”! Hence, the best way is to study abroad and ...”
“Irene! Is that true you refuse to talk to Leopold? He’s beseeching me to intervene!” My grandmother bursts into my scheming.
“Of course he shouldn’t have postponed his call until he’d be back in Prague. Though mind, Irenchen, a lady never exposes herself by putting her true feelings on display. Call him at once and clarify the situation explaining him that Mary misunderstood your order. Do I make myself clear, Irene?” She hands me the receiver and dials Leo’s number. I follow her command lamely.
“No need to apologise, Irene. I understand perfectly. One can concentrate on one’s study only if undisturbed. May I have the pleasure of dining with you tonight?”
“Say “Yes”, Irene!” My grandmother, listening in, clutches fiercely my shoulder.
“I can’t wait seeing you, Leo! At seven, if it’s right with you.” I accept gracefully and start leafing through my textbook to demonstrate my grandmother how serious I am.
“I won’t detain you from your studies, sweetheart. Be especially nice to Leopold. He might be a little uptight so, please, treat him as if you two had left Antibes at m the same time.”
“Of course, grandmother. Don’t worry. I understand.”
“Do you, child?” She gives me a tender hug and leaves me in hope she educated me well enough to know on which side my bread is buttered and when to keep my mouth shut.