December 27, 2006

What Matters Most


Genricke Han
Born: August 23, 1958
Slept: August 23, 1993
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21

A tear dropped on the fair hand that rested on the words of the Apostle Paul. That fair hand belonged to Miss Macel Han, younger sister of the deceased man. She felt she had to come here. Not for the weeds to be trimmed or the wilting flowers to be watered, but for him to be remembered, just plain remembered. Another lonely tear trickled down her cheek.
A little girl’s laughter broke the deafening silence. Macel looked up.
She was a pretty little thing, her black, curly hair catching attention. She was walking and talking with a man very much taller and who looked a little bit older than she. His hand held hers as they strolled through the tiny park.
It wasn’t the child’s hair or the man’s handsome features. It was the fact that they had many similarities. They both quite painfully reminded her of those days that the tears now refused to stop. Why did she have to look up?

December 23, 2006

My Master Klemens

“…But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24

A rustle was heard in a clump of berry bushes; those with little red balls of sweets hanging on them that have always been preserved in jars and munched joyously in mouths stained with their tints. This was what made me now shrug in failure before I knew it, for I had always tried to the best of my ability to keep my master neat and contented.
I circled the bush, found some strands of golden curls peeping amongst the tiny branches, and grabbed at the now-dirtied collar.
“Master, please. Stop playing around with me, will you?” I begged exaggeratedly, meaning it to sound like a facetiae. “Just tell me where you go next time so I won’t be worried to the bone.”
Instead of an expected joke in return, though, a stony answer was replied, “It’s none of your business, Bauer. I will go where I want to go, and no one is to tell me what to do.”
I was used to such responses from the same innocent-looking boy, but I won’t let his sourness ruin my high spirits. “Master, remember what your father has always told you,” with Klemens now reciting right along with me weakly, “’Always respect those placed over you.’”
Klemens crawled out under the scratchy branches, his sallow hand flinging away some flies that were intent on buzzing over the berry stains. He looked up angrily, “But I shall not.” Running deep into the woods, he hid behind some berry bushes and was quite concealed.
“Master? I know you’re out there,” I called, “Please come out and don’t get my masters worried.” I once more circled this bush and that, thinking I would still be successful.
I wasn’t.
“Master, please answer,” I called more loudly, not losing hope. I worried so that I wouldn’t ever leave the woods until I find him.
“Master, you know what, there are wolves and wild boars in these haunted woods,” I taunted, my tone warning him. I softened later on though, thinking that this was no longer a joke. “Please, Master, come out.”
There still was no reply.
I collapsed onto a rock and sighed in failure once more. What would I ever do if I go home without Master Klemens? What would my Masters say? I was sure to lose my job.
These thoughts kept bugging my mind. They were quite a family with a name in the court, and Master Klemens, being the firstborn, was already destined to enter into politics. Perhaps his family would execute me when they knew that their son, nascent in education and court etiquette, was missing.
When I already felt like giving up, I heard soft footsteps coming toward me. I turned. No one was around but the darkening oaks. “Master Klemens?” I attempted once more, now in a hoarse voice.
The footsteps grew louder. They sounded like two pairs of footsteps. At last, I could make out two little figures, the thinner being embraced by the sturdier; both having the same height. I now recognized one of them as my master.
“Master!” and I ran shakily, half wild with joy.
“Ria!” was the call, crying. And the poor little soul was gathered up into his faithful servant’s arms. The other figure watched, pleased.
When I turned at last to face and thank that other figure, all I saw was zippo. He was gone.
I buried my face once more into the blonde curls of my little six-year-old lad, quite overjoyed that an angel found him.

I watched my Master Klemens grow up, from his toddling years to his teen years. They were ten glib years of learning and merriment even in the doors of his family’s study where his governess met him six days a week from eight in the morning to six in the evening. They do not seem to be merry years to the burdened learner, but Klemens yenned for knowledge so much that they were merry.
But this merriment was not to be credited alone to those times with his quadragenarian governess, for since that mysterious meeting with that figure in the woods, Klemens had often wandered off from his fervent studies and walked away to that same part in the woods where he met the figure. They often see each other there.
And how do I know this?
Now I had always been at my master’s side through all those years, and though he is unaware of it, I watched his activities from afar and just left him to enjoy them. Peculiarly though, I had never really cared to take any note of the physical appearance of my master’s companion except his blonde hair, but that he was an average country boy in the rural parts of Cob Lenz. All I noticed was their laconic, but dedicated camaraderie.
This friendship went on and on between the two boys, and I did not mind it as long as it contributed life to my sickly master’s health. I have been already unabashed of my bailiwick for my spoiled master since, for he was now a kind, caring gentleman; and the other servants credited it to me that I was the cause of the drastic change. And I have been steady on this task for such a long time already, and have always had no regrets over it. These were all because of that little figure that found my master.
The time soon came when there was to be a big jamboree for the completed studies of my Master Klemens. Everything was so glamorous and inviting that guests can’t help but stare at the crystal chandeliers and great tapestries that covered the walls. The cooks and servants celebrated joyously along with the cheerful family, that everyone can’t help but hum as they buzz all over the place.
But the celebrant was missing. I couldn’t find my master.
Till then, I had never thought of that small cluster of trees and bushes just beyond our fence, which was the meeting-place. I hurried quickly.
I then realized I was right. For there they were, Klemens and his best friend. But they seemed not to be as close they last were. There was another figure, that of a girl. It was Sara, Klemens’ younger sister. I drew near, but hid behind some cluster of mahoganies.
“Good day, Sir Johann!” I heard the angry voice, then the steps humbly, slowly walking away. There were loud whispers when the paces were already far off.
“Klemens,” and now I discovered how very much annoyingly talkative Miss Sara really was (and has always been), “why have you been seeing that – that vagrant, and for such a long while already. I haven’t even known. Just wait till I tell Father and Mother.”
“Sara, please. He’s my very best friend,” Klemens pleaded with his obstinate sister.
“No, Klemens. It’s still my duty as family, though I’m just your younger sister, to help further your future career as a respectable monarch of Austria. I shall, and no one’s stopping me.”
Klemens consented to my shock. There was a vow written on his face though that was apparent to me: Nothing is going to keep me away from this close bond, his face said.

I did not know what was going on behind that enormous door. All I knew was my master’s obstinate posture and Miss Sara’s obvious pleasure when he was called into the room. When he came out, his eyes seemed to faintly glimmer with the few tears that refused to fall. I knew my master’s machismo would help him stand under the shadow of his father.
But I did not expect the following scenes to happen.
Master called me into his room for a glass of water. He had slumped into his princely four-poster, all hopelessness. Even his grand raiment that had endured throughout the party had hopelessly lost all its glory despite its being starched and pressed by my hands.
I sat carefully beside him and laid my arm about his shoulder as I have always done when he felt so down, trying to give him some comfort that ought to have come from his mother. Eleven years ago, he would rage when I did this, grudgingly accusing me of stealing his mother’s position in his life. But the poor lad didn’t seem to have one, and this was what has often troubled me as his nurse.
I expected some thrashing about now as he did before, but instead, he slumped lower – at last shrinking back against my shoulder, the sobs now threatening to pour even before he began to speak.
“Ria, Father …Father wants me to …to hate my friend.” And he broke down into loud sobs, forgetting his age.
“Who friend?” I asked, pretending not to know.
A smile dimly showed through the sadness. “Now Ria, stop it. I know you have always watched me carefully, and though I sometimes hate it, I thank you for it.”
“Fine then, tell me about Johann.” I wanted to know more about this friend whose role played an important part in Klemens’ life.
“He’s Johann Elssler. He’s a country boy who’s so sturdy and strong …and has everything that should be in a man. I really admire my best friend,” pausing, and then as if recollecting some past thoughts, he added now in a sudden burst of anger, “but just because he’s a farm boy doesn’t mean he doesn’t have any intellect. This was what Sara wrongly judged of him and she even gainsaid many things I had never before heard Johann say.
“He knows things I don’t, like common sense and chores and the wind that pumps strength and life into your chest.”
“I want you to be just like him. I was even very much relieved when he found you in the forest. That was the thing that I really remembered about him.”
“What? I was six by then. You still remembered?” The tears seemed to have left his eyes all of a sudden – all as if the argument with his father had never happened.
“Very well …But what did your father think of Johann that he wanted you to …to hate him?”
The tears resumed their course. “He said he did not want me to associate with people of low connections. Worse, I discovered that he particularly abhorred people who wanted to revolt against the monarchy …people who want a democracy. And these were the issues we discussed with Johann.” And then, as if speaking to himself, he looked down and muttered, “I’ve always had some qualms about this, and now it happened …but I can’t …I can’t leave my friend.” The tears all came in a flood.
“Why? What did he say?”
“Father …he said he wants me to continue on to study in the University of Strasbourg for …for eight years. And Johann …Father wants me to forget him totally, as if he never existed. But I never shall. I vow I never shall.”
“You’ll study there? On your own?”
“He said he wants me there …without a nurse. I’ll …I’ll miss you, Ria. Thank you very much for your care. And I’ll …I’ll really, really miss Johann. Father won’t let me see him again.” Klemens sobbed his heart out.
“Master …will I lose my job?” I felt like fainting. I had no place to go for I had no relatives.
“Yes, you’ll lose your job of nursing me, but you’ll have a new one. You’ll be the head of all the other servants.” Klemens smiled at me in pleasure because of my apparent shock at his former words.
“Thank you, Master. I won’t abuse this respectable position. Don’t forget me when you succeed your Uncle Metternich.” Those were my parting words to him.

I stared at the brown wisps that are now tinged with some gray. My gaze then shifted to the gate and the scenery before me. And then I saw the woman in the transparent glass again.
She was now forty-five years, nearly one-half spent faithfully in service to the Metternichs. She had observed nearly all the goings-on in the household, and now she is preparing the whole house to be in order for the long-awaited arrival of her Master.
She watched servants wangle away some of the kitchen money, or others haggling with peddlers over unimportant kickshaws. She smiled at the memories and they, too, seemed to smile back at her appreciatively because of a job of keeping-house well done.
I smelled a bitter sort of tang. My sweated-over cake!
I ran to the oven and discovered the blackened remains. I brushed off the ashes and baked another cake, all the while laughing at such an idiosyncrasy to stare at your reflection and forget yourself.
In my excitement, I listened for the carriage, forgetting that he was yet to arrive late in the afternoon. And it was still midday. I smiled over my oiled pan and hummed as I scrutinized dust on all the furniture a hundredth time, obliterating the little others that remained.
At last, the glorious day was nearly over and the future Monarch of Austria now drove through the manor in his carriage. He stepped down and walked magnificently with his Father and his Uncle.
I hurried along to line with the other servants when he strode through the hall. When I thought I caught his glance, I smiled pleasantly in greeting to my Master who was now quite a man. He did see. But not in the way I had often expected. He did see – and how blank that look was.
He waved us all off impudently, as if he hadn’t a care in the world. I had to know what has happened to my Master and I walked to his room freely as I’ve always done.
“Master?” I asked before entering the room.
“Come in,” in the strictest manner I’ve ever heard.
I felt like crouching in the farthest corner the moment I entered, for his face was so terribly stern. A face that you wouldn’t even think belonged to the same angelic little blonde nearly a decade ago. But it did belong to that blonde little boy who, before, had so meekly leaned on my shoulder for strength and blew his nose into my lap.
Before I could come up with an answer, he already spoke. “Who …who are you?” in his strict tone, but with raised brows.
“But Master, I thought you would remember me when you return–”
“Wait. I don’t recall–”
“I’m Ria,” I said with a heavy heart. How could he forget his faithful nurse through all those years? What if he also forgot Johann? The way he talked long ago, he seemed as if he were ready to die if he were to break his vow and forget his dearest friend. But now.
“Who Ria? I don’t know such a woman.”
Master really was so brainwashed through all those years. But at least his innocence as a young boy never left him. I tried to recall what he called me when I first served my five-year-old master. “Bauer,” I started from my place by the door, “yes …Bauer.”
“Oh, Bauer. Yes, yes. I now recall such a woman–” and he suddenly crumpled up his hair in a confused sort of frenzy I could not understand. “No, no–” he mumbled in such a muffled voice.
My motherly concern came in, and I cannot help myself but run to his side once more to support him. “Master, please. Tell me what’s wrong.”
He melted into my arms, just as he did so long ago. “No, it’s just,” pausing, his eyes looking as if they were seeing things quite remote from the ordinary daily happenings, “I …I saw a certain face in the crowd one dull autumn day.
All this time, my thoughts went to Johann, but Klemens didn’t seem to mention the name. Perhaps he already forgot him. I kept listening in silence as he went on. It would do us no good if I would cut in with questions. I will not disturb my recuperating Master. He had to regain the character I knew so well.
“Actually he led that …that mob. Yes, that’s it …the rebellion against my Uncle, the Monarch of Austria. He had a fierce soul and I knew it the moment I saw his face. Oh, how he hated the monarchy! He raised his club with one hand and shouted curses on the government at the top of his lungs.
“I knew then that I had always despised democracy.”
After quite a moment of stillness, I broke in. “So you are ruling,” I concluded for him.
“Yes,” decidedly.
“And surely blood is thicker than water,” I added.
“Yes, I truly agree,” with more resolution but without thought.
“And so you agree that you shall love your parents and hate Johann.”
The same stillness reigned once more. I knew I had hit the mark for he vowed he should never forget Johann. I could almost hear his voice saying, “I vow I never shall.”
“Uh… No,” he said hesitantly. “But the Elsslers are a passionate democratic family, surely… No, he was and is my dearest …dearest friend,” a teardrop fell out of confusion, “I can’t… I just can’t.”

The time soon came for my Master to succeed the Throne.
During this time, I was quite busy with my duties as he was with his, but he never forgot me and I’m glad he didn’t. He had already softened to me, but the mention of Johann still disturbs him so. It seems as if his soul gets quite divided and I helplessly can’t relieve him of it. But I knew that he had to choose for himself.
These were some of the many thoughts that entered my head as I arranged several papers scattered wildly about my master’s study. They were filed into folders, and some in boxes, but they were papers and they either had to be thrown or kept.
Now, I didn’t mean to, but an old-looking manuscript particularly caught my eye for the words were before me, although obscurely. I read, “December 6, 1773, Stefan Metternich.” I read and reread it.
“December 6, 1773.” I paused to recollect my thoughts.
“No, it can’t be,” I told myself. “But it’s an original copy. It can’t be mistaken; perhaps my thoughts are. But, it’s unbelievable. Klemens can’t have a brother – and born on the same date. Unless he has a twin.”
I shook my head in disbelief. Perhaps I had to tell the head cook or someone older in service there. He will know, I’m sure. I just can’t keep this secret to myself, especially one pertaining to my master.
At last, I reached the head cook’s quarters in that big mansion. “Sir, may I ask something?” I said in my lowest voice as I raised my eyes to the man behind the door.
“May I ask something?” I said a bit louder.
“Now stop bothering me with silly questions, okay? I’ll answer something worthwhile to talk about these gloomy winter days. Yes, what is it?” asked the jolly old chef who looked twenty years older than me.
“It is something worthwhile.” I pushed him deep into the bedchamber for he and I stood by the doorway at the end of the hall where anyone might pass. “Now, does Master Klemens have a twin?”
He cachinnated quite loudly and scared me out of my wit. “That is something.” Solemnly, he answered later though, “He does.”
I felt like fainting and was speechless for a few moments.
“How did you know?” he now returned suspiciously.
“I …I happened to, by chance, take note, find Stefan’s birth certificate. What happened? And where is he now anyway?” I asked curiously.
“I don’t know. We all don’t. All I know is that his father did not want two heirs who would soon fight for the throne so he got rid of one and sent him straight to a parsonage. His mother had always thought her son died, and she was made to think so. Perhaps he’s taken care of there and is in better conditions than our Master Klemens–”
“Why do you say that?” I cut in.
“Master Klemens looked so yellow and sickly until you came in. Before you did, he was such a neglected child that he seemed as though he were an orphan or a child whose parents had left him to care for himself. They were both so edacious for political power that they forgot they had a child to take care of.”
“That’s why. He knew his parents forgot him so he vowed that he would never forget the people closest to his heart… Johann,” I said quietly to myself, not realizing he had heard.
“Who’s Johann?”
“Johann… He is Master Klemens’ dear bosom friend,” I answered without thinking. I had promised myself not to tell a single soul this secret, but before I knew it, out came all I knew. “A country boy of Cob Lenz, he was. Quite close to my Master too; perhaps closer than his very own family… But now, things changed.”
“What? I’ve never known this before. I haven’t even seen the boy.”
I told him all the things they did together as kindred spirits but made him vow to seal his tongue about all these. “Now where can we find Stefan? We have to find him and tell him of his part in the inheritance.” My passion was ignited for the two brothers to find each other. They had to know. This mystery should not be kept from them.
“No, don’t do that. It would be crime against the Metternichs. No, don’t you dare,” the chef said, sweating. “We would be doomed to our pallbearers before we know it, us servants.”
“But we have to …Well, if you won’t cooperate, then I’m off alone. Still,” and I paused for breath, “you have to tell me which parsonage he is in now.”
“Wait. Not too fast,” and then, as if talking to himself, “oh, dear, if my masters will discover that I gave this secret away, my head will be off first for sure.”
I heard that. “Please Sir, if you love the Metternich clan.”
“Fine. The parsonage beyond those woods bordering the east of Cob Lenz …that’s where he was thrown to.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
“Very well, Ria. I hope that God will bless your endeavors,” wiping the sweat from his brow.

When dawn broke, I set off for those same woods where I first saw the figure. I hadn’t realized till now, as I passed those now withered branches of the berry bushes, how much that evening affected my life – for some tears fell. Everything had revolved around that short scene.
But I had to go on and stop pausing; the past belonged to the past.
At last, there’s the parsonage. It was quite well kept and homey with its whitewashed clapboards and wooden mahogany porch. There were several little patches of soil from which vegetables had obviously been uprooted for there were several traces of root.
As I quickly noted these things, I saw an old man approaching.
“Ma’am, who have you come for?” he asked in a lighthearted tone that did not seem to have any trace of problems and sadness in it.
“Is …is there are a certain young man named Stefan there?” I lowered my voice and had to be careful with my words. I had just remembered Master Klemens’ age of twenty-four when I said “young man” for I had almost uttered “little boy”.
“No… wait, who are you?” And I saw a crinkling of brows in question. I then concluded that he never recognized my face in the least for I never really ran errands.
“I’m the nurse of our Monarch, Klemens von Metternich… Keep my identity and this conversation confidential, if you please.”
“If that is what you wish, let us go to my room and there we shall discuss …not in the open air.” He smiled rather forcefully but he did not have a single trace of annoyance in his voice.
Leading me to an inner room in the tiny cottage, he motioned to a wooden stool. “What shall we talk about? Stefan?”
“Yes, please.”
“Actually, I do not know any man of that name.”
I expected that but I did not know how to react at first. “Then,” and I thought deeply, “was there any bundle left in front of your door in December 1773?”
“Yes, there was. That was Stefan?” he asked calmly.
“Yes… That’s him certainly. May I speak with him?”
“Of course,” and then, to my shock, started calling, “Johann, Johann! Come here, boy!”
Johann arrived sooner than I expected. I now noticed how akin he was to Klemens, and how blind I was not to have noticed his blonde hair and almond eyes. His foster father left us to talk with each other.
Our conversation went to all sorts of topics and the day had almost come to an end before I could say the real reason why I came. I regretted why I used up quite a dalliance of my time talking of lighter topics.
“Johann,” and I gulped, “do you know that you and Klemens are …are brothers?”
Johann stared at me for quite a while. And then there was a tiny smile creeping up at the sides of his lips, perhaps in astonishment. “We are?”
“Yes, Johann.” Unlike other people, this young man amazes me, for he readily believed. To back up what I said though, I produced the manuscript I found.
“I was named Stefan?” he asked, laughing. “I just can’t keep up with the news.”
“Don’t mind the name Stefan. You will always be called Johann no matter what.”

“Master, how much do you love your dearest friend?” I ventured while cleaning about his study. He was at his desk, mulling over his paperwork and several documents.
“Which dearest friend?” he asked absently.
“Your dearest bosom friend. The one you first met in the nearby woods by the berry bushes,” I said, smiling over the dust on the carpets.
“Oh, why didn’t you just say, Johann,” he returned, smiling happily at the recollection. I’m glad he no longer had that reluctant attitude when he first arrived from the university, and I really feel, judging by the somber look his face now showed, that he had chosen what he knew was right.
He continued gravely, “I love him as I would a brother; perhaps even more than family.”
“Well then, have you ever wished that you were brothers?”
“I’ve always had. Sometimes, I had even hoped that I have a long lost brother who was just out there somewhere whom I have to find.”
“What if I say that what you’re thinking is not your own imagination?”
“What …what do you mean?”
“I mean… Johann… That he’s …your brother,” I at last released.
“No, I don’t believe it.” But his eyes told me he did.
“Well, then. Take a look at this.” And I showed him that birth certificate which belonged to Stefan Metternich.
Before I knew what was happening, a celebration was immediately being prepared. A grandiose carriage was sent to the parsonage to bring “the long lost brother” home. A messenger was sent out to proclaim the news throughout the kingdom, and by and by, people from far and wide flocked to the mansion.
I was assigned to bring Johann to the Master’s bedroom. There he was to be scrubbed clean and dressed up in the best of suits. I asked him how he felt right then.
“I don’t know. It’s just …I’m not used to this kind of treatment, these riches which aren’t right for me,” he said shakily, not believing that what he had heard is really coming to pass. And so soon.
“But it’s true. This is supposed to be your life and your riches, but it was taken away from you. You were not worthy to be placed in a parsonage when all the while you were carrying with you a share of the estate.”
“Yes… but I still can’t believe it.” And he clung to me as Klemens had so often done.
I rubbed his back to comfort him. “You can go through it all.”
And I led him out of the room and down the stairs when he was ready. I watched behind him as he descended. A few moments later, I leaned over the balustrade to watch the happenings.
Master Ferdinand Metternich and his wife were already downstairs. I observed more closely.
He was whispering some things to his wife’s ear. And then, unexpectedly, his booming voice was heard all over the meeting-place.
“Who planned all this?” he demanded of us angrily. Shocked murmurings were heard. I shivered desperately. This was all my doing.
To my surprise, Klemens spoke with all courage. “It is I.”
“My dear son has fetched an …an impostor?!” Furiously, he shoved the silverwares and candlesticks off the long table gloriously adorned.
“He is not an impostor,” Klemens defended his friend and brother valiantly.
“How dare you!” And then turning to Johann who stood at the foot of the stairs, he pointed with a threatening pistol as he continued speaking to Klemens, “This …this poor beggar? My son? He is no longer my son! He had always been rejected since the beginning. How dare you!”
A gunshot was heard. I screamed my loudest for my master, who now bled in the heart. I wanted to run to him. I wanted to embrace my poor boy. But he wasn’t mine. His mother, from whom a second ear-splitting scream came, did what I thought I had a right to do.
But I did not take note of Madam Ferdinand Metternich’s regret at not having to do with my master’s affairs till now. All I noticed was the young man Johann, who now trembled at such a sight of his dear friend, who had received the bullet that should have been for him. He still seemed composed from afar, but there was a passion in his pale face, evidently a fierce revenge he had never before felt.
This fierceness upon his face drove him to thrust a hunting knife into his father’s heart. It was too late for Klemens to have stopped him by saying, “No… don’t kill father! No, Johann…” and in weary gasps breathed his last. I screamed again as his head dropped. The sadness everyone felt was not the end.
Klemens’ mother now could not forgive herself for the death of her husband and son. She blamed Johann, “I no longer care whether you are my son or not. All I’m sure of is,” and she paused with a heavy breath, “you are to be blamed for all this.”
Just as he answered, “I know,” the gun that had fallen from his father’s hands shot a second bullet, marking the end of the Metternichs.

I later on learned from the head cook that before long, my Mistress Sara took over the unfinished reign of my Master Klemens. She has now obtained what her heart had always desired – the whole Metternich property. She had taken advantage of the men in her family, and her mother, who had immediately gone crazy after that fateful night.
I have lived to tell the tragedy of the Metternichs. That was the end of those two kindred spirits slain by the same gun, who, although torn apart by their family, were in their hearts always friends and brothers, both in this world and the next.

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