Mikeln Miloš:
The Great Bear

(a segment)

    Štefan Vidovič was among the first to travel the Savinja Valley to Hudinja and on through the plain of the Celje basin towards the villages, Vojnik and Frankolovo.

    It was the expansion of the hop fields that tempted him: great earnings from hops. In 1923, hop growers got 90 dinars a kilo for dried hops, in 1924 only 75 dinars, and then in 1925 again 90 and in 1926, just over 80 dinars. So, they said, the price would be sometimes higher and sometimes a little lower, one had to be prepared for that, but with no other crop was it possible to earn anything like so much money. Three kilos of hops amounted to the monthly wage of a farm girl. Or for a kilo of hops, a cubic meter and a half of sawed softwood. And eleven dinars for one Swiss franc: the Savinja landowners of those times were no strangers to the exchange rate for the Swiss franc, or the English pound.

    But Štefan could not survive the fall in price of hops in 1927, by half, to 40 dinars a kilo. Especially since he held off selling too long at that price, and the price fell still further, so in the end he got barely 24 dinars a kilo. He had set up his hop growing in 1924, on short-term credit, calculating that he would be able to pay it all off from the first complete year in which the hops came to full fruition. When he had taken the credit - he calculated that he would have to sell at 80 dinars in 1927 in order to pay off the loan.

    However, when he got less than a third of this, his accounts went completely into the red. Actually, just a gaping red hole. First it swallowed his new hop fields. Then the new drier failed; the finest between Celje and Vojnik; it had been erected by the Celje builder, Gologranc, but now nobody needed new hops-driers, and it went for hardly more than the used bricks themselves were worth. Finally, he had to sell his real, his original business, the brickworks, to pay off the debt. He was left with only the master’s house in Hudinja.

    Even the Savinja hop growers of course groaned, but this first weak year and the steep fall in price did not ruin them; since they did not plow, set up hop poles, do the binding or gathering on land bought on credit, or dry in proud new driers, built on credit. Some of them were entirely without debts on the estates, because they had paid off the old ones in the first three post-war years, when the produce had a high price and the depreciation of money was under control. Others, burdened with interest, had to take new loans, smaller or even larger, when their anticipated income fell. Large scale indebtedness, and the ruin of hop growing, came only later, in the great crisis of the first half of the thirties. Stefan was one of the few who was flattened in the sudden halving of the price of hops in 1927, and the old hop growers quietly acceded to the ruin of these speculators, as they called them.

    Concurrently with his business collapse, there also ended the brief period of his "national endeavors and activities", as a political career was called when mentioned sympathetically.

    The first period after the war, for some two years - in some places a little longer, in some a little less - people lived in some sort of strange dizziness. In many families, the old familiar order of life had been destroyed because of those that had fallen in the war - husbands, sons, brothers - or because of the sick and the invalids that the battlefields had come back home. Elsewhere, everything was turned upside down because of the collapse of the old state and the great changes that this transformation had brought: the heads of the families had lost their jobs, and with it their daily bread, they had to seek new employment, and not just state officials and those in public service, and had suddenly found themselves once more at the beginning of life or in a completely different, new job. Even those of independent means, farmers or small businessmen or traders, had seen the values on which they had always relied collapse before their very eyes: farm hands were suddenly heedless, maids wanton, and the world was out of order. On the other hand, a lot of people sensed the opportunity for a speedy rise, by trade, business, or through conscientious service to the new authorities, and they ruthlessly exploited it. And many were giddy simply from national fervor, it was the end of foreign domination, there was a new free state with brother Croats and Serbs, and great meetings, and flags, everything beginning anew - how could a man not cry out "cheers" night and day.

    People who were poor and without property were still in a special mood, which aroused fear in them and, at the same time, united them: hatred of masters. The war had brought them nothing but suffering, the hunger of the women at home, death or injury to the men at the front - and who but the masters had propelled the world into this crisis? The governing classes, they were newly called. And the governing classes were considered to embrace all people of standing, any kind of master, lay or clerical, mayors and priests, landowners and merchants, officers and attorneys, policemen and postal officials and engineers in factories. The revolutionary spirit which the men and boys had brought back from the front, from Russian captivity and from other scenes of revolution and subversion was there.

    New customs spread: no longer did a man bow and doff his cap when he met a master - in the new world, even a pauper was equal to a man of means, and held his head up high, looked through him as if he simply wasn’t there. Disdain for all and any kind of men of quality, heedlessness, obstinacy and stubborn wilfullness, these were suddenly the new virtues of simple people.

    Mayors and parish priests said, this will pass, let them calm down and forget the war and revolutionary manners, then we will again rein in our hot-headed Slovenian men.

    But in Celje, for the moment, the reins drew constantly to the left. The Social Democrats were strong. The Celje Social Democrats hosted pan-Slovenian meetings and even congresses. The party could have had a great influence on local politics in the first post-war years - as there could be any local politics in the post-war confusion and turmoil.

    Inasmuch as there was, Štefan Vidovič, landowner and businessman, also found himself embroiled. He became a Social Democratic municipal councillor, in a fairly unusual way.

    On the penultimate day of December 1919, Stefan had barely properly taken over his new company, the brickworks, when he discovered all twenty of his workers, in the middle of the afternoon, gathered around an upturned empty barrel, on which stood a three liter wicker flask of wine and a glass. The foreman was pouring wine into the glass and saying "Well, who’ll be first," and then in embarrassment, when he caught sight of the master: "Mr Vidovic, why don’t you be first, though it’s a workers’ holiday…"

    "Why not," said Štefan, "even though it’s a workers’ holiday. What holiday is it?"

    They all laughed.

    "Well, what holiday it is, the day will tell," and Štefan drained the proffered glass.

    "There’s no holiday, he’s made it up."


    They immediately fell silent and exchanged glances, as if they now wanted to help a comrade in distress and not denounce him to the master. "Me," came the slow reply from the one who had earlier been pouring, and had offered the first glass. "I’m Matija Klančar."

    "I know, Klančar. So, what kind of holiday?"

    "The first anniversary since the national government of Slovenia proclaimed the law on the eight hour working day."

    Some of them again laughed, as if they did not really think to see the master fall victim to an innocent childish prank. "And why not, since it’s a holiday," said Štefan. "Another glass, please, it’s good wine." They were relieved, one after another they drained the glasses and the bulging flask was all at once empty. "Now I’ll provide the second," said Stefan, "and a couple of loaves of bread and half a kilo of bacon. It will be here soon, we’ll finish it off in half an hour, and then we’ll get back to honest work. Till the end of the eight hour day…"

    "Of course, Mr Vidovič! Long live Mr Vidovič!"

    "From New Year’s on, here in my brickworks it will apply…" Stefan fell silent, the enthusiasm subsided in an instant, they waited for him to punish them for their arbitrary holiday; disappointed and distrustful faces stared at him, "it will apply that on Saturdays and days before holidays, we’ll work only to noon, but you’ll be paid the full eight hours for these six hour days. That will be my contribution, a further step forward from what the national government of Slovenia began a year ago."

    They so mobbed him that he was almost suffocated in the crush, then they raised him on their shoulders and carried him all round the large courtyard of the brickworks; it was almost like an intercessionary procession for the blessing and success of their work, from the moist piles of clay to the kilns - what is was like in detail nobody could later remember exactly, but it was long talked about in Hudinja and Celje.

    Štefan’s brickworks was henceforth the only company for far around where they worked only six hours on a Saturday, for eight hours pay. Because of that, the other businessmen looked askance at the Hudinja Vidovic, as if he was overpaying his workers at their expense. Those who felt that way were mostly owners of small factories, whose workers still for the most part worked a nine hour day, in some places twelve hours, and sometimes, with well-filled order books, even on Sunday afternoons, so that now some young chaplains waxed indignant in the Sunday sermon against ruthless masters for whom profit was the first and only sacred thing, that they disregarded even the Lord’s day.

    In the spring of 1920, Matija Klančar asked Štefan whether he would join the Social Democrats and whether they could count on him for the elections to the constitutional assembly for which they were preparing. Štefan said that they could. In the autumn, when there were the real elections, although they had not made him a candidate, he attended and spoke at a number of election meetings. Once, Bara also went with him. She became excited and would have herself stepped onto the speaker’s platform, would have spoken heatedly, like that time in the inn at Čakovec where they had first met, thought Stefan in surprise. Her eyes fairly blazed when she stood up and raised her hand, but the men chairing the meeting did not let her speak: things had not come so far that a woman could speak at an election meeting -they didn’t even have the right to vote, and they wanted to teach us?

    Thereafter, Bara did not attend political gatherings. In December 1922, she gave birth to a second son. They called him Miha, and he, too, was not taken to be baptized; it would have been necessary to show a marriage certificate, which, in view of their pagan wedding, they, of course, did not have. It was the same with the third, born in 1925, again at the Three Kings. He was named, what else, Boltežar; since during the entire pregnancy they had only discussed girl’s names, firmly convinced that they would get a daughter on the third time round, when they had to tell Gasper and Miha what their brother was called, and when it was also necessary to announce the name to the house, the servants and maids, they decided in a moment and so announced Boltežar.

    Štefan was at that time deeply involved in politics.

    In the spring of 1921 he had been for the first time, and in the summer of 1924, for the second, elected as one of the Social Democratic councillors of the municipality of Celje District. At the elections in 1927, he was replaced by an innkeeper from the Maribor road who, just before the elections had set up a bold white chapel in front of his inn, and then in speeches at the election meetings had announced that he had done this for the salvation of his socialist opponent, Stefan Vidovic: he was sorry for him and would do even more to raise a man from hell at least to purgatory, since Štefan Vidovič, the well-known atheist and Bolshevik, would undoubtedly end up there, where, as was well known, all socialists would be consigned, as well as those who recklessly voted for them.

    Štefan lost the election for two reasons: because just before the elections he resigned from the Catholic church, more by coincidence than design, and because - and this was perhaps even worse - the word had spread that he was about to go bankrupt.

    People, though, even without chapels, no longer voted for socialist candidates, workers and foremen on the socialist list, among whom Štefan, as the only businessman, was more or less a rare bird.

    When the post-war turmoil died down, arrogance abated. The mayors and priests had been right: let them have their fling, then we’ll tame them again - and the revolutionary spirit drowned in the everyday difficulties of life, the voters again voted for the big landowners, lawyers, large merchants and other successful men, even though they had to earn their bitter bread from them. Or perhaps precisely because of it: those who knew how to arrange things best for themselves, will also know how to do so for the municipality and for all of us, that’s how it is in the world. And if you want work and bread, don’t presumptuously resist those who know better.

    The "godless socialists" slowly, at least that part of the work force which was more strongly bound to tradition, to the land, to the church and religion, and which, when the post-war revolt and wilfullness had passed, returned to the clerical side and once more began to respect God, authority and property. On the other hand, the socialists themselves also changed. The most pugnacious Social Democrats began to join the Communists. Those not inclined to revolution and communism, joined the Christian trade unions, and thus came closer to authority than to opposition. Those who remained in the center, the center-minded Social Democrats, who believed in the gradual development of workers’ solidarity and in political activity in the parliamentary parties, slowly but steadily lost power and influence. The people in Slovenia also unwittingly followed the currents of the times which began to prevail throughout Europe, and these led only to extremism, right or left. There was no longer any real space for those tending towards the center.

    Štefan’s famous departure from the church came about by accident: because of the baptismal certificate of his eldest son, Gašper, who was enrolled in primary school in that year. The parents, of course, had to submit the baptismal certificate on enrollment. They did not have it, and so Gašper Vidovič came to school as the only one of his class without this document. Štefan’s excuse of the post-war confusion, in which the child had been left without documents on his birth and baptism, did not help at all. Finally, the school administrator said: "Let the child be baptized again, better two baptisms than to be without papers." Štefan didn’t say that, in fact, he would have liked to have had him baptized already, but of course, this, too, would not work, because the parents lacked a marriage certificate. He went from the school to the mayor’s office, and from the mayor’s office to the parish priest, and was finally directed to the Abbot of Celje, Peter Jurak.

    Jurak was a strict man. During the war he had served as a chaplain at the front, and a little of the officer’s manner remained with him forever. However, he was also a fair man. People respected him.

    When, after a first unsuccessful call for applications in 1921, the Maribor episcopacy for a second time called for applications for the position of Abbot of Celje in 1923, Dr. Anton Korošec and Peter Jurak applied. The Maribor bishop, Karlin, probably did not want a politician in this influential church position in the county of Celje, and he resolved the quandary by rejecting both the applications. There was a third call for applications in August 1924. Nobody applied, but at the Bishop’s persuasion, on the last day, Jurak lodged a request for appointment, and Dr. Korošec, as the Belgrade Minister of Religious Affairs, confirmed his appointment.

    But for all his fairness and understanding of human pressures, in matters of faith, Jurak was uncompromising. He could not issue a certificate of baptism, he declared outright, and he could not recognize their marriage. He would be prepared to marry them if they first performed all that was necessary for a man and woman who had lived so long in sin: a serious confession and a long penance.

    Then Štefan stood up violently and raised both hands: so, I had to serve the most Catholic of all emperors for five years, three of them at the front - and before they sent me there, the archbishop of Ljubljana himself blessed the boys who humbly gave themselves to be driven to death - and when in the post-war confusion, my present wife saved my life, riddled by bullets, on the point of death, and I married her, we couldn’t get God’s blessing because the priest there had locked himself in and barricaded the door of his rectory with great beams, in fear lest someone empty his granary and henhouse, and wouldn’t even show himself at the window when they called him for a baptism or funeral, let alone a wedding - and now you’d impose penance on the two of us for that?

    Then he forced himself to calm down, and said slowly, the words falling one upon another, with long intervals, as if piling heavy stones onto a heap, that he had had enough of it all, and that he was quitting the church and the faith.

    Abbot Jurak, white as a sheet, was silent at the table before him for a long time. "If that’s what you want, Mr. Vidovič consider how it will publicly shame your brother, who is an honorable and temperate man. But alright. Return your certificate of baptism to the parish priest’s office, here, and submit a note with the request that you be struck from the list of believers of the Lavantine episcopacy and the Roman Catholic church."

    The quiet, but sharp words of the abbot affected Štefan more than would have an angry reply to his violent outburst. But, what’s said, is said. He curtly nodded, and briefly thanking him, left.

    It appeared that even the abbot himself didn’t know everything, namely that a certificate of baptism and a note are not a weighty enough official reason for such an arbitrary act. Stefan had to lodge at the district board a stamped request to the Ministry of the Interior in Belgrade, in order to register his departure from the church. The district board rejected his request several times in succession, and sent it to the competent mayor of the municipality of Celje District, comrade Valentin Hrastnik, a socialist and foreman at the Westen factory for enamel ware. He initially returned it to the district officer, without telling Štefan anything about it, and then submitted that “Mr. Stefan Vidovic recognize the complete impropriety of his intended act and desist from the same".

    Hrastnik tried to persuade Štefan above all that, as an unbeliever, he would destroy his future for all time: if he ever needed work, for instance, he would be certain not to obtain it. Stefan stuck to his guns, and demanded a "civil baptismal document" for his sons. Formulated with mayor Hrastnik, they knew of no better way, and this for all three at the same time, so that he wouldn’t have the same problems with the other two later. But even did this took time. The municipality gave him some sort of temporary paper with which Gašper could be enrolled in the first class. Only after a year did Štefan obtain a document which confirmed that he had been officially removed from the Roman Catholic church.

    Of course, this was all discussed at length throughout Celje. And of course, after that, he had no chance in the elections: only some of the most convinced opponents of Church involvement in social, educational and other civil affairs voted for him, and even these were more from the ranks of the old liberals than from the Social Democrats. Although the latter were not on good terms with the Church, they preferred to avoid conflict with it, since they had already barely avoided the bad reputation of atheism among the people who, regarded faith, the church and everything connected with it as an inevitable framework in which man’s life from birth to death unfolded. They immediately closed their ears distrustfully to anyone who demonstrated a real intention to withdraw from, or even destroy this framework, which consecrated with the gilding of centuries, and each time renewed with brilliant ceremonies, recurring in the confidence-inspiring eternal rhythm of the change of seasons.

    His business ruin was more serious than his political one.

    For some months after this - when after fairly quick bankruptcy proceedings he had lost everything except the large villa in which they lived - they could still survive on what Bara had in the cellar and storehouse, and some money which could still be found here and there, for the most part from previously unfinished business. But even this modest source was soon exhausted, and from the kitchen there wafted throughout the whole house only the smell of potatoes and cabbage. He had to find work. Employment.

    "Of course, Mr Vidovič, I would take you on with pleasure, Mr Vidovič, but, you know, a businessman cannot afford to have his clients to look askance at him, which would be inevitable, God preserve us, if he were to employ a man without…, well, you know, without moral principles, without respect for the faith, as you know very well yourself…"

    Some of them even said straight out: "What did you have to do it for? Did anyone force you to go to evensong or sing in the choir? To go to church to get married and have your children baptized, that you could surely have endured, couldn’t you? But you preferred to start all this circus and leave the church and everything. And you know, you’ve only yourself to blame. And just when your brother has become mayor, and all sorts of fine, profitable business might have come your way…"

    Štefan had become so accustomed in the last months to being humiliated and sometimes even to being treated with open scorn, that he heard such sermons to the end and then, without answer, turned and left.

    But at night, alone or with Bara by his side, when he did not know whether she was sleeping or hiding her misery from him and not showing that the nights were even more bitter for her, despair overcame him. Good, the house was still here. But since he had already sought a buyer for it, and they would get little enough for it, it would be necessary to move somewhere, and when the money from the sale was gone, they would no longer even have a roof over their head. And what then? Would he go and beg his brother in Breg to take him under his roof, give him shelter in a shed or the cellar, like a beggar? Would he take his wife and three children to Metlika or Lokvica, all in a single room or perhaps even just in the haybarn above some stables? And what was there, anyway, would anyone still know him and would they have corn and potato at least for pap to assuage their hunger?

    He felt guilty about his wife and three children. Where were the times when he had quickly loaded all four into the coach some afternoon and driven them into town for errands, or even just for the fun of it? Or when, for example, he had taken all three boys to the hairdresser for the first time? Until then Bara had cut the two older boys’ hair herself when it got too long. When the youngest, Bolt, had been ready for her scissors, Štefan had said that that would no longer do, that from then on they would go to a real hairdresser. Not to some bungler in Hudinja or Bukovzlak, but to a real master in the town. Bara wanted to go with them, but he did not take her: this was not for a woman, just as a man did not enter a female hairdressing salon. So they went by themselves. The first suitable hairdresser was just as, they entered the town, but there was nowhere to leave the coach there. He turned to the right immediately after the credit bank, but as if in spite, there was no hairdresser in the entire street. He did not consider searching on towards the hospital, but turned back towards the center of the town and turned into the narrow street behind the theatre towards the Turkish Cat, and there to the left and into the square behind the Old Pot, where there were enough tetherings for horses, which were often left there by people coming into town for errands. He tied up the team and gave them hay, and then all three went past the Turkish Cat. On the corner where there was an enticing smell of fresh bread and biscuits, the boys would not stop their pestering until he stopped at the bakery and bought them each a bun, and then they turned towards the town hall and the German church, so that finally they were within a dozen steps of the hairdressers. "Amand Pepernik, shaving and hairdressing salon", read the eldest Gašper aloud, and the younger two, who were not yet up to letters, believed him literally. The boys became very serious, the fear was visible in the eyes of all three, but they courageously walked behind their father, and then, one after another, bravely sat in the large shaving chair, fitted with dangerous levers. Štefan sat with the other two at the back of each hero of the experience in turn, and pretended that it was all nothing, but every instant sought in the mirror the gaze of the sufferer on the chair, smiled at him and conspiratorially winked, and the boys gratefully answered him with long devoted looks, to which they added forced, brave smiles. "Did they cry and shriek terribly, because they always cry the first time?", asked Bara when they returned home, and the boys proudly feigned anger: after all, why would anyone shriek, it wasn’t anything, come on, Mama. Štefan was seized with a mood of celebration, and poured the boys some sweet raspberry cordial and gave them each a piece of chocolate, and Bara and he opened a bottle of wine, as if they were celebrating a holiday.

    Yes, where were those times? It had been a long time since there had been money in the house for a bottle of wine. Nor for the hairdresser, which actually cost more for all three heads than a bottle of Riesling. That the three Vidovic boys walked around with long hair, like the Indians in the new Metropol cinema on King Peter road, was one of the least painful effects of the dearth which had settled upon the large house in Hudinja. Štefan almost never saw Bara any more except in tears. She cried in the morning when he left, and in the evening when he returned from his unsuccessful search for work.

    When he again unsuccessfully registered at the employment office and aimlessly wandered towards the meadow behind the grammar school and the Protestant church, he was stopped by a gentleman in an impeccable black coat, small in build, but upright in stance: "Guten Tag, Herr Vidovič. Ich bin Doktor Gerhard May."

    "Good day, minister. There’s no need to introduce yourself, please, since I know you. Who in Celje doesn’t know you."

    They spoke in German: the Protestant minister of Celje, Dr. May, would on no account speak a word of Slovenian. Štefan’s German had never been good, and in recent years he had almost forgotten the little he knew - but Pastor May was used to that: even his flock, the Celje protestant Germans, with rare exceptions, did not speak proper German.

    "I hear you’re looking for work, Mr Vidovič, but without success."

    "So, the word has reached you, too, has it."

    "Oh, we know everything."

    Štefan looked askance. The minister laughed, and waved his hand, as if to say they’d not discuss that, and continued seriously. "You can’t find work because you didn’t want to get married and baptize your children according to the Catholic rites. Well, of course, in Prekmurje, from where you brought your wife, there are plenty of Protestants, which these ignorant people in Celje don’t know, nicht wahr, eh."

    "You know that, too, hmm? But my wife is not actually from Prekmurje, and she’s also not, how shall I say, of your Protestant faith…"

    "You see, even we didn’t know that. I thought that she was a Protestant. Never mind. I think that I can help you anyway."

    "How can you help me?"

    "With a good job."



    "Well, my leaving the church came about more by accident than design, I think, not from any special conviction…So, I don’t intend.. To be blunt…I’m sorry, my German is really very bad…" Štefan in truth was less in search of the right words, than trying to cover his embarrassment.

    "Be blunt. You don’t intend to enter the Protestant faith, you wanted to say."

    "Well, yes."

    "You don’t have to. We’re not going to employ you as cantor in the church, so it’s all the same what faith you are. You don’t have to be rebaptized, though even that is not so difficult for others, as we’ve both been able to see now that some of the prominent Celje families have eagerly entered the Serbian Orthodox faith. That doesn’t count with me, the Germans are a civilized nation. You’re an able young man, and it’s a pity for such a man to be without work."

    "Whether I’m able or not is…"

    "Oh, we know about your hops disaster. You’re not the only one, you know. You may be the first, but not the last - there will be many who’ll go bankrupt yet. There’s a crisis coming, times will be bad. So a good job will be that much more worth having. But to come to the point. Rakusch ironworks need a competent travelling salesman. The pay will be on commission. It won’t be difficult for you to sell good Rakusch ware, you’re a smart fellow. Your name, and that of your brother the mayor, that doesn’t worry us. On the contrary: both the owners, the messrs Rakusch, excellent Germans and proud to be German, are of course first and foremost merchants, and here in this country, even a German trader needs Slovenian customers, so in this case, the interests of the firm and your circle of acquaintances match perfectly. I’m not talking here as an ignorant pastor, but as a good friend of the house and firm of Rakusch. You’re not involved in politics any more?"


    "I understand you. You see, the Slovenians didn’t get all they wanted in this state."

    "Oh, it wasn’t that.."

    "Wasn’t it? Well, you haven’t yet considered it altogether. Since the Balkan wars in 1912 and 1913, Serbia has been only concerned with digesting its southern provinces. And looking still further south, to Salonika. They’re not concerned with the Slovenians, nor the Croats in Istria, Dalmatia and the islands, occupied by Italy. In 1918, they would have sold the whole of Slovenia and half Croatia for Salonika if they could have got it. Yes, they only gaze down there, like an overfed dog at the smell of a sausage which it would like to gobble up, but can’t manage any more. They won’t get it either, but all the same, they can’t take their eyes off it. Let me tell you something, Mr Vidovič, the only ones who can live together with the Serbs are those on the same economic and cultural level, or a little lower. Do you know why? Because they make the law for the whole country according to their own needs. Anyone who has more than they have, they take it away. Only for those with the same or less, only for such are their laws and customs to the right measure: they won’t take from such people, because their measure applies to themselves, too, and they don’t take from themselves. Do you understand? No? Well, that’s an understanding that awaits you. I’ve given you a little too long a lecture here in the middle of the street. Among us - the others of us, the Styrian Germans, they don’t understand you Slovenians as I do. Although I lead the Kulturbund here, I still acknowledge the Slovenian nation, for what it is. It certainly deserves a better fate. I think that Serbia is ruthlessly exploiting it. But never mind politics. The house of Rakusch needs a good travelling salesman with a prominent name - and you a good job and money…"

        "A job?"

    "A well-paid job."

    Štefan didn’t even try to hide his excitement. However, he would have to consider whether employment with a German firm wouldn’t do him more harm than good. But what of it? Weren’t the majority, or at least half of the Celje shops in the hands of Germans. Not to mention the factories, Westen, one thousand two hundred workers, Slovenian to a man working for the Germans, and happy enough to have the work.

    "Well, you don’t have to decide here on the street. Think it over for a week, and then… So, Mr Vidovič, we’ve conversed long enough, have we not, and now we must each go our own way…"

    Štefan automatically reached into his breast pocket for his watch. It wasn’t there any longer, he had sold it the previous week and got barely a tenth of its real value for it.

    When a man has already sold his watch, he’s in no position to be choosy about a job. He buttoned up his jacket, straightened up, as if coming to attention, and asked: "When can I start?"

    "So, that’s the sort of person we need! I’ll mention our discussion to the Messrs Rakusch this evening. Call on them tomorrow, around noon, at number 6 King Peter Road, the office of Mr Daniel above the store. Then we’ll see each other again quite often. Insofar as you’re not on the road, of course."

    As Štefan returned through the town to Hudinja, he saw through the broad windows of Fazarinc’s new grocery shop, the owner behind the counter. They knew each other from Štefan’s days on the municipal council, since Fazarinc was also a prominent man of the municipality of Celje town, though not on the same side, of course. In a moment, Stefan turned on his heel, without thinking about it, and went inside.

    "Mr Fazarinc, I’ve no money. But tomorrow I’m getting a job. I’d like to buy something for the kitchen at home. I can’t pay you until the end of the month. That’s the truth. What do you say?"

    The merchant looked at him suspiciously. They stood there for a long moment in silence. Stefan lifted his gaze, flies were grazing on the portrait of the king, and the crucifix on the wall behind Fazarinc. The premises were empty, insofar as a grocery store can ever be entirely empty, living as it does with its smells and the unperceived ripening of its hundreds of foodstuffs, probably even at night and in the dark.

    "Well, I’m not pressing you. I just asked. And I need no sermons on how it wasn’t necessary for me to leave the faith and ... and all that."

    "Who said I’d give you a sermon. You’ll take… for the whole month?"

    Štefan nodded.

    "Good. The boy will deliver it to your home, he’ll go with you. What will you take?"

    At the house, Štefan did not unload the small cart which Fazarinc’s apprentice had pushed in front of him the whole long road through Gaberje to Hudinja, but, with the boy, lifted it across the threshold and pushed it into the large hall which was simultaneously the reception room and the largest room in the house. The rumble of the cart attracted the whole house, that is to say, Bara and all three boys; they no longer had a maid and servants. Bara helped unload the cart without asking any questions. "Put it there on the floor", she said, then reached into her pocket to give the apprentice some money. Her hand came out empty, she shook her head sadly and looked beseechingly at Štefan. He, too, searched through his pockets, one after another. Nothing. He stood for a moment, impotently, in embarrassment, then firmly grasped the cart, raised it above his head, although it was by no means light, carried it out, and meanwhile said to the apprentice: "Boy, we’ve not met for the last time. Next time you come, we’ll… well, I won’t forget."

    "Thank you very much, sir," said the apprentice, and set off back to the town.

    "Now tell me", burst out Bara, when Štefan had re-entered the house.

    "I’m to be a salesman again. From tomorrow."

    "There, at the grocery store, from where that came from?"

    "Not there, that’s from Fazarinc, not there."


    "Not actually a salesman, a travelling salesman."

    "Where? For whom?"

    "For Rakusch. For those Germans on King Peter Road."

    Bara sat on the stairs, on the first wide, mighty oak step, and looked at the bags and boxes spread on the floor. She couldn’t look him in the face.

    "...Well,we’ve little choice… As long as there’ll be bread in the house again," she said at last, and tried to laugh.

Translated by Martin Creegan