Guide to the Gift

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Rambling On: 

   An Apprentice’s 

Guide to the Gift 

      of the Gab

       Translated by David Short

K A R O L I N U M   P R E S S

Bohumil Hrabal  R

ambling On

Rambling On is a collection of stories set in Hrabal’s Kersko.

Several of the stories were written before the 1968 Soviet-led 

invasion of Prague but had to be reworked when they 

were rejected by Communist censorship during the 1970s. 

This edition features the original, uncensored versions 

of those stories—we have sought to preserve the author’s 

original intention. Hrabal’s narrative technique and deeply 

elaborate imagination is unique. His short stories seem 

to be like fragments of everyday life and have a deep core 

of general humanity and as such they call for no further 

comment and can be read for the sheer pleasure of it.  

These tales are humorous and surreal.

Rambling On_obalka.indd   1

07.04.16   15:05

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Rambling on: An Apprentice’s Guide

to the Gift of the Gab

Short Stories

Bohumil Hrabal

Cover illustration by Jiří Grus

Designed by Zdeněk Ziegler

Set by Karolinum Press

Text © 2016 by Bohumil Hrabal – heirs, c/o DILIA  

and Bohumil Hrabal Estate, Zürich, Switzerland

Translation © 2016 by David Short

Epilogue © 2016 by Václav Kadlec

ISBN 978-80-246-3286-5

ISBN 978-80-246-3874-4 (online : pdf)

Ukázka knihy z internetového knihkupectví

Charles University

Karolinum Press 2018

U k á z k a   k n i h y   z   i n t e r n e t o v é h o   k n i h k u p e c t v í   w w w . k o s m a s . c z ,   U I D :   K O S 2 4 1 6 8 9

A B O U T   T H E   A U T H O R

Bohumil Hrabal  (1914–1997) is one of the most striking 

of modern Czech prose-writers; alongside Milan Kundera 

and Jaroslav Hašek he is also one of the most widely trans-

lated Czech authors (a large proportion of his works has 

appeared in English, and the most renowned have been 

translated in up to 30 other languages). 

University educated Hrabal took up a range of jobs 

(copyist, warehouseman, railway linesman and many oth-

ers) which equipped him with a wide fund of experience on 

which to draw in his way of writing.

Hrabal’s oeuvre is conspicuous for its heterogeneity, 

from his early verse in the 1930s to various prose forms in 

which he ‘experimented’ with language. He made a name 

for himself with collections of stories A Pearl at the Bottom 

(1963) and Palaverers (1964). Genuine renown followed with 

the novella Closely Watched Trains (1964; the screenplay de-

rived from it won the 1967 Oscar for best foreign film); the 

story of a small railway station during the German occupa-

tion. In the early 1970s Hrabal found himself on the list of 

proscribed authors, though the period did give rise to such 

works as Cutting it Short (1974) and The Little Town Where 

Time Stood Still (1974), which drew heavily on his personal 

past, especially his childhood and the places where he grew 

up. Like these two works, others could also appear only in 

the underground Petlice or Expedice series; they included 

I Served the King of England (1971) and Too Loud a Solitude 

(1977) and carried no information that might have identified 

him as author. After 1975 some works could be published 

‘officially’, if on condition of a measure of (self-)censorship. 

In works that continued in the previous general vein there 

is an intensification of autobiographical reflection, as in the 

trilogy In-house WeddingsVita nuova and Gaps, from the late 

1980s onwards Hrabal focused chiefly on shorter genres – 

feuilletons, commentaries and brief essays.

U k á z k a   k n i h y   z   i n t e r n e t o v é h o   k n i h k u p e c t v í   w w w . k o s m a s . c z ,   U I D :   K O S 2 4 1 6 8 9

I dedicate this translation first and foremost to the memory 

of my good friend and fellow-translator of B. Hrabal  

James Naughton, who sadly died just weeks before this  

volume saw the light of day, and also to the memory  

another of our colleagues, Michael Henry Heim.


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In a lightweight play one may find 

some most serious truth.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, 

philosopher of the Late Baroque

Essential to playing is freedom. 

Immanuel Kant, 

philosopher of the Enlightenment

When you’re pissed, Kilimanjaro 

might even be in Kersko.

Josef Procházka,

roadmender and my friend

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( 9 )

1     T H E   S T   B E R N A R D   I N N


 Keeper’s Lodge, a restaurant in the 

forest, I always see, lying there on the apron, the patio out-

side the entrance, where in summertime patrons sit at red 

tables and on red chairs, a huge, wise St Bernard dog, and 

the patrons either stepping over it, or, if they’ve ever been 

bitten by a dog, preferring to look away and walk round it, 

their peace of mind restored only after they’ve sat down 

inside the restaurant, but if the St Bernard were to be lying 

inside the restaurant, these timorous patrons would rather 

sit outside on the red chairs, even on a cold day. No St Ber-

nard ever did lie here, and probably never will, but my 

St Bernard will lie there for as long as I live, and so the 

St Bernard and I, outside the Keeper’s Lodge restaurant in 

the forest, we two are coupled wheelsets… It was way back 

when my brother got married and had a haulage business, 

driving his truck and taking things wherever anyone need-

ed, but the time came when a private individual wasn’t 

allowed to drive on his own account any more, and so my 

brother, his private company having been shut down, was 

out of a job. And because he was jealous, so madly jealous 

that his wife wasn’t allowed to have a job lest anyone else 

look at her, he suddenly got this weird idea that my sister-

in-law’s gorgeous figure couldn’t be exploited anywhere 

better than in catering. And if catering, then it had to be 

the Keeper’s Lodge forest restaurant. And if the Keeper’s 

Lodge, then the place should be made into a real pub for 

lorry-drivers and foresters, locals and summer visitors. 

About that time, the manager’s job at the Keeper’s Lodge 

fell vacant and my brother did his utmost to make the 

restaurant his. And in the evening, he and Marta would sit 

for hours, and later on even lie in bed, weaving an image of 

an actual Keeper’s Lodge, a fantasy restaurant whose décor 

they carried on planning even in their dreams or when half-

asleep. When my cousin Heinrich Kocian heard about it, 

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( 10 )

he’s the one who’d risen highest in our family because he 

thought he was the illegitimate scion of Count Lánský von 

der Rose, wore a huntsman’s buckskin jacket and a Tyrole-

an hat with a chamois brush and green ribbon, he turned 

up at once, drew a plan of the Keeper’s Lodge restaurant 

and made a start on the décor with some rustic tables of 

lime wood, tables that he would scrub with sand once a 

week and with glass-paper once a year, around the tables 

he drew what the heavy rustic chairs would be like, and on 

the walls, which were decked with the antlers of roebuck 

and sika deer shot long before by Prince Hohenlohe, the 

feudal lord of the line that had owned these forests for 

several centuries, he added a couple of wild boar trophies. 

And cousin Heinrich decided there and then that speciali-

ties of Czech cuisine would be served, classy dishes that 

would bring the punters in because out on the main road 

there’d be signboards with the legend: Three hundred me-

tres from the junction, at the Keeper’s Lodge, you can enjoy 

a mushroom and potato soup fit for a king, Oumyslovice 

goulash or pot-roast beef with stout gravy. My brother and 

sister-in-law were over the moon and the Keeper’s Lodge 

was like a padlock hanging from the sky on a golden chain. 

But even that was not enough for cousin Heinrich. He in-

sisted that any decent restaurant should have a corner in 

the kitchen set aside specially for regulars and any other 

patrons worthy of the distinction. So he consented to pur-

chase six baroque or rococo chairs and an art nouveau 

table, which would always have a clean cloth, and that was 

where the regulars and any guests of honour would sit. This 

rococo corner so excited my brother and sister-in-law that 

thereafter they wore blissful smiles and they would drive 

out every day to check on the painters’ progress in the 

kitchen and dining area of the Keeper’s Lodge, the painting 

jobs seeming to them to be taking an unconscionably long 

time and they wanted the painting completed overnight, as 

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( 11 )

fast as their own dream of the Keeper’s Lodge had been. 

And when they saw all the outdoor seats lined up in the 

garden of the Keeper’s Lodge under the band-stand, nothing 

could stop them having all those night-time visions and 

dreams of the garden restaurant by night, all the tables 

painted red, all the red chairs in place round the tables on 

the lawn, with wires strung between the oak trees and 

Chinese lanterns hanging from them, and a quartet playing 

discreetly and people dancing on the dance-floor, my broth-

er pulling pints and the trainee waiter hired for Sundays 

serving the drinks in full French evening dress, and my 

sister-in-law would be making the Oumyslovice goulash and 

the pot-roast beef with stout gravy, and the patrons would 

be enjoying not just tripe soup but also the regal mushroom 

and potato soup. One day, cousin Heinrich Kocian turned 

up, joyfully waving the bill for the six chairs which he’d 

bought for a song, and when he and my brother went to 

have a look how the painting of the walls and ceilings of 

the Keeper’s Lodge was progressing and when my brother 

confided that he’d further enhanced the woodland restau-

rant with a garden and dance floor, our cousin said that in 

this corner here there’d also be a barbecue smoker, where 

spiral salamis and sausages would be heated up and uncurl 

over hot coals and he himself would take charge of it at the 

weekends, despite being the illegitimate son of Count 

Lánský von der Rose. And my brother and sister-in-law were 

happy, spending the happiest years of their marriage forev-

er moving chairs around and manically seeking ways to 

make the restaurant even more beautiful and agreeable. 

And so it came to pass that when I heard about it and when 

I saw the Keeper’s Lodge forest restaurant for myself, I said, 

or rather casually let drop, that what the kind of beautiful 

restaurant that my brother and his wife wanted to create 

out of this lonely building in the forest needed was a nice, 

big, well-behaved dog, a St Bernard, lying outside the en-

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( 12 )

trance. And at that moment nobody spoke because cousin 

Heinrich was coming to the end of his story of how the 

Prince von Thurn und Taxis had taken him in his carriage, 

which had been waiting to collect him off the evening ex-

press, to his palace at Loučeň, and when the coachman 

jumped down from his box to open the door, the prince 

exclaimed: ‘Johan, you’re barefoot! You’ve drunk your boots 

away!’ And the coachman explained tearfully that he’d had 

to wait so long for the later express that while he had in-

deed drunk away his boots at the pub by the station, he had 

salvaged the Prince’s reputation by blackening his feet with 

boot polish… and as our cousin finished this story about 

his friend, the Prince von Thurn und Taxis, and having made 

it plain that when such important personages as the Prince 

von Thurn und Taxis are spoken of a respectful silence is 

called for, he asked, though he’d heard full well, what I’d 

said. And I repeated that such a beautiful restaurant in the 

woods should have a well-behaved St Bernard lying outside 

the door. And my brother watched our cousin, as did my 

sister-in-law, almost fearful, but quite soon our cousin’s face 

broadened into the smile he would smile as he envisioned 

the future, looking far ahead, and at the end of this vision 

lay St Bernard’s very own St Bernard with its kindly fur-

rowed brow, which thus became the final full-stop, indeed 

keystone of the entire conception of what the Keeper’s 

Lodge restaurant in the woods was going to be like. At the 

admin headquarters of the Co-op, which the restaurant in 

the woods nominally belonged to, they had nothing against 

the young couple’s interest in the place, saying they were 

even pleased because managers as well-versed in book-keep-

ing as Marta were far to seek. And so our cousin fetched 

the six rococo chairs, my brother cleared a corner in their 

existing flat, cupboards pushed together, settee out into the 

corridor, and there and then, under the watchful gaze of 

cousin Heinrich Kocian, they set the chairs out as they were 

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( 13 )

going to be in the Keeper’s Lodge forest restaurant. And 

they put a cloth on the table and my brother opened a bot-

tle of wine, and the glasses clinked in toasts to such a fine 

beginning, since there was no putting it off. And as Heinrich 

sat there in his Tyrolean hat, one leg across the knee of the 

other, sprawled out, he started on about the time when, 

following Prince Hohenlohe, Baron Hiross became the own-

er of the forest range within which the Keeper’s Lodge lay, 

and how one day he’d been staying with him and had per-

sonally bagged a moufflon at the upper end of Kersko, at a 

spot called Deer’s Ears. “But that gamekeeper Klohna!” 

cousin Heinrich started to shout, “the tricks he played on 

the baron! I’m sure you know that aristocrats, when their 

gun dog gets too old, they just do away with it! And so the 

baron gave the word for his setter to be disposed of and 

Klohna duly shot it. But the dog was a handsome beast 

and the gamekeeper fancied it and duly skinned it. And 

after he’d cut off its head and buried it along with the skin, 

the landlord of the restaurant on the Eichelburg estate, 

close to where there’s that sawmill, near where the Kersko 

range ends, where there used to be that spa where Mozart 

once took a bathe, the landlord asks, ‘What’s that hanging 

there?’ And the gamekeeper said it was a moufflon. So 

having given him two thousand for it – it was early on 

during the Protectorate – the landlord marinated the mouf-

flon and because I was visiting Baron Hiross along with a 

number of aristocrats, he, the Baron, booked a sumptuous 

dinner at that restaurant on his estate, which specialised 

in game dishes, and sumptuous it was; for starters: sal-

picón, turtle soup, and I’ve never ever tasted such fantastic 

sirloin as on that occasion,” cousin Heinrich said, sipping 

his wine and smoothing the tablecloth... and my brother 

and sister-in-law envisaged this corner in the Keeper’s 

Lodge and looked forward to having cousin Heinrich there 

to hold forth and divert the regulars and the better class of 

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( 14 )

patrons... “…but when the Baron came to pay, and he paid 

sixty thousand, because afterwards we drank only cham-

pagne and cognac, we all asked what kind of sirloin it had 

been, and the landlord said it was moufflon. And then they 

conveyed us to our various homes near-dead, because in 

aristocratic circles it is the done thing to render oneself 

unconscious with the aid of champagne and cognac, and 

Baron Hiross at once leapt into his britschka and careered 

off back to his gamekeeper’s cottage, where he started 

bellowing at the gamekeeper, the latter in his long johns, 

having already gone to bed: ‘Klohna, you’ve got poachers, 

d’you know what we’ve just feasted on? Moufflon! I’ll see 

you sacked!’ Baron Hiross ranted… and so Klohna had to 

get down on his knees, swearing that he was a faithful 

guardian of the forest, and that what they’d just feasted on 

wasn’t moufflon, but his lately shot gun dog… And Baron 

Hiross, just as the Prince von Thurn and Taxis had forgiven 

his coachman after the coachman had drunk away his 

working boots, the baron said: ‘So I’ve actually gorged my-

self on my own dog mas querading as moufflon and paid for 

it twice over...’” Then my cousin turned to the newspaper 

and my brother and sister-in-law buffed the arms of the 

chairs with polish to bring them up to such a fine shine that 

their image of the corner for regulars in the Keeper’s Lodge 

became one with reality. And suddenly cousin Heinrich 

whooped: “Right, mes enfants, here it is: For sale: a St Ber-

nard dog, to a good home only. Price negotiable. Gel.” He stood 

up, pulled on his buckskin gloves with a small shot-hole in 

the top side and said: “I’m off to get that St Bernard. If the 

corner with its baroque chairs is ready and waiting, let’s 

have the St Bernard ready and waiting as well.” Next day, 

my brother and sister-in-law not having slept that night, 

cousin Heinrich Kocian arrived, and that he was a very 

small cousin we knew – whenever he was about to eat a 

frankfurter, it would hang down to his knees before he’d 

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( 15 )

taken the first bite – and so from a distance it looked as if 

he was leading a small cow. When he reached the house, 

my brother thought he was leading a big calf, a young bull-

ock. But it was the St Bernard. “Six hundred crowns he cost, 

the owner’s a writer!” he shouted excitedly, “and he’s called 

Nels! The author’s name’s Gel!” Nels was a handsome beast 

with a washing-line round his neck, secured with the writ-

er’s dressing-gown cord, and the dog instantly made himself 

at home, lying down on the cement floor to cool off, and the 

way he lay there was exactly as if he were practising for 

how he was going to lie outside the entrance to the Keeper’s 

Lodge restaurant. And cousin Heinrich sat down on a roco-

co chair, legs crossed, in his Tyrolean hat, and with one 

sleeve rolled slightly back he reported how the writer had 

made him welcome and explained that the main reason he 

was selling the dog was because he loved him, but Nels 

loved his young wife much more, so whenever he laid a 

hand on her, the dog would bowl him over and growl into 

his face, so he had grown into a disturber of conjugal bliss, 

and that was why he was selling him. And he had immedi-

ately handed over the dog’s pedigree and here it all was: 

Nels was famous, a descendant of the short-haired St Ber-

nards of the St Gothard Pass and his father was thrice best 

of breed at the Swiss national dog show, and his mother 

had come from the St Gothard hospice itself... And cousin 

Heinrich added the dressing-gown cord to the bill, because 

Nels had grown up indoors and so in lieu of a lead Mr Gel 

the writer had let him have the dressing-gown cord for the 

journey. And then Heinrich left and Nels remained in 

the house. And so the day came when my brother and sister-

in-law went to the Co-op offices to pick up their deed of 

appointment to the Keeper’s Lodge inn in the forest range 

of Kersko. But the manager told them that, regrettably, the 

licensee who had been at the inn before had had second 

thoughts and decided to stay on, but that there was a pub 

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Document Outline

  • Cover
  • About the author
  • 1 The St Bernard Inn
  • 2 A Moonlit Night
  • 3 Mr Methie
  • 4 A Feral Cow
  • 5 A Grand Piano Rabbit Hutch
  • 6 Jumbo
  • 7 Mazánek’s Wonder
  • 8 The Snowdrop Festival
  • 9 Friends
  • 10 Fining Salami
  • 11 Leli
  • 12 Beatrice
  • 13 Lucy and Polly
  • 14 The Feas
  • 15 Ionic Man
  • 16 Hair Like Pivarník’s
  • 17 The Maid of Honour
  • 18 Adagio Lamentoso
  • 19 An Apprentice’s Guide to the Gift of the Gab
  • Afterword
  • Translator’s Notes
  • Content

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