Eternity – Part 03

A cool, evening breeze blew, rustling the flowers in the beds.

Kazuya’s jet-black hair stirred in the wind as he stood by the window reading the book.

Inside the candy house, Victorique lay on an emerald-colored couch. Her eyes were closed, her magnificent hair flowing like a river of gold to the floor.

Kazuya paused. He looked at her and listened closely.

He could hear soft breathing.

“She’s asleep,” Kazuya breathed, disappointed.

“I’m awake,” groaned a deep, husky voice.

Victorique’s long eyelashes moved as she slowly opened her eyes. Deep green orbs gazed at Kazuya.

“Why doesn’t Harry have any chance with her?” she asked.

“Oh, so you were listening.” Ecstatic, Kazuya cleared his throat and turned his gaze back to the book. “As to why, uhm… Ah, right. He’s penniless.”

“Sounds like a loser.”

“You don’t have any money either.”

“Indeed, I do not.” Victorique nodded, her face emotionless.

Then she closed her eyes again. She raised a hand and waved it, urging him to continue.

Kazuya stood straight. “But he had no chance with her. As to why…”

Far above, a rosy dusk slowly enveloped the surroundings, softly illuminating the candy house, the flowerbed maze, and the two.

As to why, Harry was penniless, while Mr. Marsh was rich. He had a fine house and garden, though rented, and he had declared that he would only give his daughter to a man richer than him. He thought that if his daughter, who was used to a life of luxury, fell in love with a poor man, she would never be happy.

Every day, Harry looked up at Mr. Marsh’s manor and sighed. He didn’t even do any work. I thought he had little hope, too, until one day. Harry got to know Bluett better. This time, Harry was in trouble, and it was she who helped him. His shoe got stuck in a drainage cover. He was having trouble pulling his foot out, when Bluett came by.

“Why don’t you take off your shoe?” she had said. “I’ll pull it out for you.”

Harry took off his shoe and waited, standing on one leg, while Bluett pulled out his shoe and handed it to him. After that, Bluett started to come to the Golden Grape to see Harry. They got along well, they had similar features, and they had fun talking to each other. But the problem was Mr. Marsh. One day, when Harry visited Mr. Marsh’s home, he was literally thrown out by the man himself. The father’s roar was heard all throughout Amsterdam.

“You maggot! Come near my daughter again, and I’ll have you loaded on a cargo ship and sent to the East!”

I heard him all the way here in my tavern. The whole city knew about it. I’d like to say that I felt most sorry for Bluett, but she was surprisingly unaffected.

“I can’t marry you if my dad’s mad at me,” she said. Harry was sobbing. “He raised me on his own, you know. We only have each other.”

“Maggot was too far.”

Bluett chuckled. “It was. But to my father, a poor man is a maggot. I doubt anything can change his mind.”

“What about you? Which one do you value? Money, or love?”

“Both.” She giggled.

Bluett was a couple of years older than Harry. Her straightforward answer left him dejected. They were having such a loud conversation at the tavern’s counter that even the people busy doing their tulip business couldn’t help but hear them.

One day, Harry overheard a group of people trading in imaginary tulip bulbs. Yes, he heard about Viceroy, the purple, mythical king of tulips that almost no one had ever seen.

It is said that the big flower with beautiful purple petals only grows in a small garden in the rear palace of a small country in the East. No one had ever brought one back to Europe, so a single flower would fetch a price high enough to keep you fed for ten years. Even the people didn’t dare to make transactions for a bulb they couldn’t obtain. They only talked about it in fearful whispers. Only Harry, the absolute idiot, thought about getting his hands on the purple flower for the beautiful Bluett.

I remember the night before Harry disappeared very well.

He and Bluett were having their usual quarrel at the tavern’s counter. Bluett’s voice was so loud that it seemed to echo throughout the whole city. Customers and servers alike stopped whatever they were doing.

“You’re the biggest idiot in all of the Netherlands!”

“Don’t get too cocky now just ‘cause you’re a little pretty, dark-skinned brat.”

“Look who’s talking!”

For a while, I had no idea what they were arguing about, but according to the people present, Harry said he was going to travel east to become a rich man and marry Bluett.

“I’ll come back rich, I swear. And then we can be together forever.”

“That’s impossible. You’re too stupid,” Bluett replied.

But we knew how she felt. To put it simply, she didn’t want him to go somewhere far and risk his safety. She was worried about her lover, but she couldn’t communicate it well enough. If only she’d been upfront about her feelings. They had a terrible falling out, and the next morning, Harry snuck onto Mr. Marsh’s trading ship and headed to the East for real.

We were in disbelief. Harry wasn’t exactly smart. Forget getting rich, we doubted that he would even make it back to Europe in one piece. We all forgot about Harry and returned to our frenzied business transactions.

Six months later, a shocking news arrived.

Mr. Marsh and some Dutch merchants were in the East to buy spices, when they bumped into Harry at the market. Gone was the bright and carefree Harry Harris; he was pale and haggard, and he was constantly trembling. It was like he was a different person altogether. Mr. Marsh and the others were concerned, but Harry never told them what had happened to him. In exchange for his changed appearance, however, Harry had acquired an extraordinary trump card.

Viceroy. The purple tulips.

When Harry told them that he had obtained numerous bulbs, Mr. Marsh and the Dutch merchants looked puzzled at first. Harry told them that he was about to set sail for the Netherlands, and he offered to show them to his crude ship. Though a little creeped out, they reluctantly followed. It was a small ship, pitch-black and ominous as darkness itself. Harry led Mr. Marsh to a dim cabin, in which the man fearfully entered. It was dirty, dusty, and cramped inside. Mr. Marsh gasped. The other merchants, too, peered into the cabin.

Eerie purple tulips were blooming all over the shadowy room of the crude ship. Light was streaming in through the door, and even the air seemed to be tinted a deep purple. The flowers, shaped like a bunch of swords, cast shadows to the left and right of the floor.

After a moment of astonishment, Mr. Marsh stumbled out of the cabin.

“I’ll buy the purple flowers, Harry,” the man said.

“What about your daughter?”

“You can have her hand when you return to the Netherlands. You will be a lot richer than I am with this much Viceroy.”

The merchants were eager to buy the bulbs, too. Word spread quickly throughout Europe, and windhandel transactions began all throughout this city. Everyone bought and sold the purple flower bulbs, causing the price to rise to unprecedented levels.

The crude ship carrying Harry and the Viceroys left the harbor.

We waited for Harry’s return. A month passed, then two. Harry never made it to Amsterdam. There was a huge storm. The ship that returned was not Harry’s, but a luxurious ship carrying Mr. Marsh and his merchant friends. It had arrived first despite leaving after Harry. Mr. Marsh and the merchants grew restless as they waited for the now-rich young man. What happened to the purple flowers that they paid a huge sum for?

Ten more days passed.

A wooden plank washed ashore. It bore the name of Harry’s crude ship.

The good-natured Harry somehow got very lucky in the East, but in the end a storm sank his ship. Harry died, the purple flowers going down with him, but everyone too suffered huge losses, including Mr. Marsh. Word on the street was that Bluett was so shocked that she became ill and bedridden. Mr. Marsh took a train to Switzerland so his daughter could recuperate. He said he would take her to the mountains, where the air was clean.

Around that time, the tulip mania began to die down. People were manipulated by something that did not exist. Prices soared, while the bulbs arrived later. It was only a matter of time before the bubble burst. At the end of 1636, that time had finally come. All the promissory notes popped, and it was over. Nobody talks about tulips anymore. A shame, too. They were lovely flowers.

Tonight at the Golden Grape, customers talked about all sorts of things, but none remembered the story of poor Harry Harris and the exotic beauty Bluett anymore. Instead they talked about a new spice from the East, nutmeg. It has a very nice aroma. It’s good with meat, so housewives want it, but it’s expensive.

No one talks about the lovely purple Viceroy anymore. So I thought I’d just leave you with the story of the flower and the odd, tragic lovers.

Oops. It’s almost dawn. I’d better go home, have a midnight snack, and go to bed. I’ll make sure to write down any other interesting events. Amsterdam is a strange city, after all.

Oh yeah, one more thing. I still don’t know why, but Mr. Marsh and his daughter…

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