Count Menthol Christoph

Count Menthol Christoph
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© Luboslav Palo and PERFEKT
With grateful thanks to The Centre for Information on Slovak Literature
An extract from Marvellous Tales of the Seven Seas (Podivuhodné príbehy siedmich morí, Perfekt: Bratislava, 2003) by Ján Uliciansky

Translated from the Slovak by John Minahane


Once upon a time, a certain count discovered a map in his prison cell. The forgetful Queen Regina had ordered the count to be locked up. Even she herself did not know why. She forgot all about him, and the count, who was called Menthol Christoph, spent thirty-three years in the tower.
One day a powerful fit of sneezing shook the castle.
HA-HA-HA-PCHEE…!
The imprisoned count had no idea what was happening. The tower shook and some of the stones loosened in the wall of his cell, and in a crack between them he noticed a crumpled roll of paper. It was an old nautical map. Goodness knows how long it had been hidden there! A green island in the middle of the sea was marked with a red cross. That certainly meant hidden treasure!
The Count sighed, replaced the map in its hiding place and looked out sadly through the barred window. He could see the harbour’s mouth, where the queen’s sailing-ship Finta had been lying at anchor for years on end. The bored crew were asleep on deck. The helmsman was snoring, flat out at his helm; the cook was in a barrel; the deckhand was rocking to and fro in the net. But the repeated sneezing tore them from their sleep.
HA-HA-HA-PCHEE…!
"Poor Queen Regina!" the deckhand cried. "She shouldn’t have stuffed herself with ice-cream!" the cook grumbled.
And the helmsman said, laughing:-
"Queen Regina has now become Queen Angina!"
Really and truly!
Queen Regina was lying in her chamber in the middle of a huge canopied bed. She was suffering from a cold. Her big royal nose was going round in circles. Regina was trying to hold back the sneezing, but it was all in vain. Once she gave such a royal sneeze that the canopy over her bed collapsed and the queen got all tangled up in it.
"Help! Help!" she cried from under the canopy. "Doctors! Healers! I’ll give my entire kingdom for a medicine which will rid me of this ha-ha-hateful sneezing!"
News of the Queen’s pledge made its way even through the thick walls to the prisoner in the tower.
"By the rusty windowbars! Now I know how I can recover my freedom and wealth!"
Menthol Christoph carefully pulled a loose stone from the wall, revealing a niche. He had a splendid working tool hidden there - a prison spoon! Menthol Christoph waited until the Queen’s sneezing started again, and then he set to work. His spoon chipped into the wall all night long.
When the hole was big enough, Count Menthol Christoph looked round his cell for the last time. Then he tied a leather bag containing the rare old map to his breast, and set about making his escape. He reached the outer walls of the guard tower. Carefully he let himself down, using stones that jutted out from the wall as handholds. Suddenly there was a resounding
HA-HA-HA-PCHEE…!
And immediately after that there was a loud
CHLYUP!
Count Menthol Christoph dropped with a splash right into the sea!
On the deck of the sailing-ship Finta, idleness prevailed. It was night, so the lantern was lighted on the mast. The crew was sitting round an empty barrel, throwing dice.
"This is a bore," the helmsman said, yawning.
"If only something would happen!" the ship’s cook wished.
And the deckhand mused:
"I’d sail all the way to where the world begins!"
"Don’t talk gibberish!" the helmsman chided him. Suddenly he thought he could hear someone calling for help.
"Get a lifeline!" he ordered "Fast!"
A little while later, the soaked fugitive appeared on the deck. The helmsman immediately led him to the cabin, and the deckhand covered him with a warm quilt. But instead of a thank-you they received only a loud
HA-HA-HA-PCHEE…!
When Menthol Christoph had pulled himself together, he drew the old map from his bag and spread it out on the table. With a trembling hand he pointed out the green island to the sailors.
"I am Count Menthol Christoph. For the present I cannot reveal any more than that. But if you will go with me on a voyage of adventure to find the treasure of the mysterious island which bears my name, Queen Regina will richly reward us all!…"
HA-HA-HA-PCHEE…!
The crew had never heard of any island called Menthol Christoph, but the Count’s proposal meant unexpected adventure! A little while later the sailing-ship Finta left the harbour’s mouth and without the Queen’s knowledge set off to sea.
The mysterious count became captain of the ship. The deckhand clipped his long hair, and the helmsman gave him a ceremonial sailor’s uniform. It suited Menthol Christoph so well that he certainly would have won the heart of a mermaid, if by any chance they had met one on their journey.
After some time there was a shout from the crow’s nest:
"Horizon on the island! Er, I beg your pardon - island on the horizon!"
The deckhand had finally spotted the secret island they were seeking. The helmsman made straight for its green shore, and shortly afterwards the sailors were hacking their way through a green jungle.
"Ha-ha-ha-pchee…!" All of them suddenly began to sneeze. Not because they’d caught a chill, but because of the intoxicating scents which were wafting in the air all around.
The adventurers finally came to a clearing. There they found a stone marked with a red cross. Exactly as it was in the old map!
The Count went behind the boulder and pushed it with all his might. To no avail. It didn’t even move.
"Hey-rup! Hey-rup!" The others all came to help him.
When finally the boulder shifted, underneath they could see a splendid wooden chest. Menthol Christoph cried out with relief:
"Oh-ho-ho! That’s my treasure!"
He opened the chest. It was full of green sweets! In the sunlight they glinted like precious stones. Menthol Christoph reached into the chest, took out one sweet, sniffed it, slipped it into his mouth, cautiously bit it to see if it was genuine, and after that began to suck it with pleasure.
"Yes," he sighed, relieved. "That’s the real menthol!"
The crew goggled at the count. Then the helmsman, the deckhand and the cook flung themselves on the menthol sweets.
"I want to taste this treasure too! Me too! That’s all mine!" they shrieked in a frenzy, shoving each other away and stuffing tasty menthols into their mouths.
"Enough!" Menthol Christoph commanded. "Everyone will receive his share! And especially Queen Regina! For her it’s the last chance!"
The adventurers loaded the chest of menthols onto the ship and set out on the homeward journey. After some days’ sail, the deckhand on the mast began a mighty
HA-HA-HA-PCHEE…!
That was a clear signal that they were approaching the harbour. When they had anchored, Menthol Christoph unloaded the chest and brought it before the old queen. She was sitting on her throne amidst an assortment of potions, ointments and other medicines. Regina was completely dazzled by the gleaming green menthol cubes in the chest.
"Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh! What on earth is - hap-chee?! What are those jewels called? And what is your own name, strange voyager?"
"I am Count Menthol Christoph. I was confined for thirty-three years in your prison. And these are menthols, a treasure beyond all treasures! You need only chew three of them - and your illness will be gone!"
Queen Regina clasped her head.
"Oh, this sclerosis of mine! I completely forgot about you, my dear Christoph! Why didn’t you leave the prison sooner?"
The mysterious count only smiled strangely and replied:
"It doesn’t matter in the least… Otherwise I would never have found the map of the mysterious green island."
The queen, sucking a menthol sweet, wanted to protest, but all she could say was:
"Ha-ha-… ha-ppy ending for you; you shall have freedom and the queen’s reward!"
Menthol Christoph had spoken the truth. After the third menthol the queen relaxed so much that she completely forgot about her illness. She ordered that the chest in which the count had brought her the menthols should be filled to the top with golden ducats.
But what happened to the mysterious green island in the middle of the sea?
The sweet-toothed waves of the sea sucked away at it like candy, and so now you won’t find it on any map of the world!

 

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With grateful thanks to The Centre for Information on Slovak Literature

 




The Destiny of Books is Written in the Stars
From a speech by Ján Uliciansky

Translated from the Slovak by Heather Trebatická

Grown-ups often ask what will happen to books when children stop reading them. Perhaps this is one answer:
"We'll load them all onto huge space ships and send them to the stars!"
Wow...!
Books really are like stars in a night sky. There are so many, they cannot be counted and they are often so far from us that we do not dare to reach out for them. But just imagine how dark it would be if one day all the books, those comets in our cerebral universe should go out and cease to give forth that boundless energy of human knowledge and imagination...

Oh, dear!
You say children cannot understand such science fiction?! Very well then, I shall come back down to earth and allow myself to remember the books of my own childhood. This is anyway what came to my mind when I was gazing at the Plough, the constellation we Slovaks call "the Big Cart", because my most precious books came to me on a cart... That is, not to me first, but to my mother. It was during the war.
She was standing at the roadside one day, when a cart came rattling along - a hay wagon piled high with books and drawn by a team of horses. The driver told my mother that he was taking the books from the town library to a safe place, to prevent them from being destroyed.
At that time my mother was still a little girl eager to read and at the sight of that sea of books her eyes lit up like stars. Until then she had only seen carts full of hay, straw or perhaps manure. For her a cart full of books was like something out of a fairytale. She plucked up the courage to ask:
"Please, couldn't you give me at least one book from that big pile?"
The man smiled, nodded, jumped down from the cart and unfastened one side with the words:
"You can take home as many as are left lying in the road!"
The books tumbled noisily out of the cart onto the dusty road and in a short while that strange wagon had disappeared round a bend. My mother gathered them up, her heart beating loud with excitement. When she had dusted them down, she found that among them, quite by chance, there was a complete edition of the tales of Hans Christian Andersen. In the five volumes of various colours there was not a single illustration, but in a miraculous way those books lit up the nights my mother so dreaded. This was because during that war she had lost her own mother. When she read those tales in the evening, each of them gave her a little ray of hope and with a quiet picture in her heart, painted with half-closed eye-lashes, she could calmly fall asleep, at least for a while...
The years passed and these books found their way to me. I always carry them with me along the dusty roads of my life. What dust am I talking about, you ask?
Ah!
Maybe I was thinking of the star dust which settles on our eyes when we sit reading in a chair on a dark night. If, that is, we are reading a book. After all, we can read all kinds of things. A human face, the lines on a palm, and the stars...
The stars are books in a night sky and they light up the darkness.
Whenever I doubt whether it is worth writing another book, I gaze up at the sky and tell myself that the universe really is boundless and that there must still be room for my little star.

 

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With grateful thanks to The Centre for Information on Slovak Literature

 







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