excerpt The pub was no better than other houses in the village, it just had a tiled roof and, in two little wire-netted windows overlooking the street, bottles of coloured drinks, jars of motley bonbons, and various other merchandise sought after by peasants. The front room was larger, floored, and furnished only with a few long tables and twice as many fir tree benches which the maid rubbed with sand and washed clean every Friday in preparation for Sunday, when the villagers came to drown their troubles in liquor. In a corner, near the counter which was sheltered in a cage made of laths, Avrum and his son Aizic were moving worried among the rows of bottles and around a huge barrel of plum brandy. From time to time, Aizic went down with a lit candle in his hand into the cellar underneath the cage, where other barrels and demijohns of the brandy were resting, and even some of wine and beer for the better-bred who, if they felt like enjoying themselves, would withdraw to the back, to the publican's room so as to be away from the eyes of the plebs. As soon as the Sunday dance was over, the men started, some on their own, some in groups, towards Avrum's. When George and his friends got there, the porch was packed with people discussing the incident at the dance, some taking Baciu's side, some Ion's. The lads went straight into the pub. The tables and benches had been kept for them, so that they could enjoy themselves at leisure. They sat in silence. They felt defeated. Avrum came out of the cage quick with two bottles of plum brandy which he put on the table in front of George, asking:"Who's paying?""We'll pay you, mate, don't worry!" answered Ilie Onu stretching his hand out for a bottle. "Fat chance of getting my money out of you!" the publican said, looking at them one by one, as if wanting to read on their faces what they had in their pockets. "You're not worth a sip of plain water… Well, who's paying? I want to know. Or I'll take the brandy and pour it back into the barrel…" George rummaged a dirty purse out of his waistcoat pocket and counted the coins without opening his mouth. Avrum picked them up carefully and headed back to the cage, jingling the metal in his hands. Ilie couldn't help shouting after him proudly, as if he was the one spending it:"Saw that, mate?... Don't fuss like that again!" One lad, suddenly inflamed by the smell of the brandy, banged the table with his fist and started to bellow so loudly that the windows shook. The others livened up as if happiness had been poured into their souls. In a few moments the whole pub warmed up from their playful cries. When they were at it most intensely, they could hear other cries of joy, stormier and wilder, coming from the street. For a while, the two groups seemed to be competing on which would choke first. But the ones outside, the nearer they got, the louder they were. And when they charged into the pub, they silenced George's people completely. Actually, the newcomers, who arrived together with the fiddlers, calmed down very soon, too tired after the effort, and the cries turned into a deafening noise of hoarse calls, angry orders, impatient shouts, of which only some could be understood more clearly:"Another glass, mate, but make sure it's sweet!"…"Hurry up, Avrum!"…"Where have you hidden, you rascal, cursed be your stock!" The lads were so many they could no longer sit on the benches. The gipsies managed to squeeze in at Ion's table, apart from Găvan who had to stand in a corner, near the double bass. A lot of bottles and glasses appeared on the tables. The smell of plum brandy was mixing with the heavy tobacco smoke and with the pungent blast of sweat. Everybody was talking at once, toasting, shouting, caterwauling. All the mouths were swearing, invoking God, the sun, and the moon, at the fiddlers or at Avrum, or even at God himself. It had become dark in the meanwhile and the room was lit only by a grimy lamp, hanging down from a beam in the ceiling. In the sickly-yellow, flickering light the people looked even more drunk than they actually were, their eyes were gleaming even more wildly, and the naked, bony arms, with their tense muscles like hungry snakes, kept going up above the befuddled heads, threatening or prophesising a danger. The voices were getting thicker and huskier, the words coarser and the curses angrier. The sweaty faces were shining, some bright red, some yellowish-green, and giddy laughter, the odd noisy burp, and long howls were rising from the dizzying tumult. Simion Lungu, roaring drunk and leaning on a corner of the table, was cursing his wife who was standing next to him with a baby at her breast. The woman kept pulling at his sleeve and telling him in an even voice, without minding his insults:"Come on, Simion, come home, really, you have to be up at the crack of dawn tomorrow to go out and get some wood, there's none left, I can't even kindle the fire… Come on, really, come on!..." Simion went on moaning to his drinking companions, who were not listening, he went on cursing and drinking until the woman finally wedged herself next to him, shutting the baby up with her nipple, laughing, and glancing in vain at a lad dispirited by the liquor. All the lads were, in turn, raising their glasses to the fiddlers, who were playing more and more passionately melancholy drinking songs, slow and flabby like some easy women. Briceag was really tipsy, but his bow seemed to glide even more beautifully on the strings, while the accompaniment of Holbea, who was even more drunk, was so out of tune that he himself was ashamed of it. Only Găvan had stayed sober, first to be able to guard his double bass, then because he was a matchless drinker, he could swig a whole pail of spirits without as much as a blink. Ion was so upset that he couldn't even enjoy his brandy. Vasile Baciu's insult had sat on his heart like a millstone. He was trying not to think of what had happened to him but his mind was poisoned by shame. A strong desire was ensnaring him: to kick, to break something, to get it off his chest so as to cool down. Every now and then he glanced towards the other table where George, refreshed, was drinking glass after glass and humming, in his gruff, unpleasant voice, a fancy song, his eyes flashing, pride all over his face, provoking. While looking at him stealthily like that, Ion suddenly felt as if a veil was lifting from his eyes. He remembered that Ilie Onu had seen him in the garden cuddling Ana. And now Ilie was sitting next to George. Ilie must have told him, and George egged Baciu on. Just because he couldn't get even with Baciu, Ion got it into his head that he had to get even with George. As soon as he took it, this decision started tormenting him. He was fretting and suffering because he didn't know how to go about it. Just then, Titu Herdelea entered the pub. His appearance stopped the racket for a moment."Good evening!" Titu said, a bit embarrassed by all the eyes that turned to him."Good evening!" they all answered, almost in chorus, and then the noise took over even more powerfully than before. Titu had come pushed mainly by curiosity. He had a feeling that the fight at the dance would not remain without consequence and couldn't resist stopping by Avrum's to see what was going on. Over dinner, the Herdeleas had discussed the incident in detail and had all agreed to take Ion's side, both because he was their neighbour and because Glanetaşu's son was brighter than all the young men in Pripas. Titu had been the one to end the conversation, declaring solemnly:"He'd better beat him soundly!" But he didn't say who should be beaten, and nobody asked because it was already late and they were all sleepy, the teacher had even fallen asleep during the conversation. After the whole family had gone to sleep, Titu sat down to work at some enrolment registers for his father. He worked for a while, but then couldn't help his impatience anymore. And as he was about to run out of tobacco, he put his hat on and went straight to the pub. He shook hands with Avrum, as he always did when he was buying something on credit, he asked for a pack of tobacco, told the publican to put it on his tab, and then, as an excuse for his lingering, exchanged all sorts of trifles with the Jew, glancing towards the lads' tables. He was dying to find out what had been happening, but he hesitated to ask. What would people say if they knew he was interested in the boys' taunts? He finally started on his way out, comforting himself with the thought that no serious fight could have happened or they wouldn't all be together. Passing by Ion's table, he smiled in a friendly way. The lad stood up and said respectfully to Titu, holding out a glass of brandy:"Be so kind, young master, and have a drink with us!" Titu wavered a little, to keep appearances rather, because otherwise he thought it was a good opportunity to find out things. So he waited for the others to insist as well, and then took the glass and raised it as a sign that he wanted to say a few words. Suddenly Ion shouted for silence, and all the voices died in a second. But the young master was a bit at a loss now, as he was not good at the long and ceremonious toasts peasants liked."To your good health, Ion!... To all of you and … cheers!" he said after a pause, his voice slightly husky with nervousness. He drank and then gave the glass back, barely suppressing a wave of nausea. Ion answered with a masterly toast that was covered though by the racket that had resumed. Titu held out his hand:"Good night, Ionică, and thank you!""We thank you for the honour, young master," the lad said and saw Titu out. In front of the pub, on the porch and out in the street, clusters of people were drinking, talking or fighting. Curious girls and agitated kids were staring out of the windows overlooking the garden, their noses flat against the panes. Macedon Cercetaşu, blind drunk and lying by the ditch, was commanding an invisible platoon, so loud that the whole village resounded. "Did you see what Vasile did to me, young master?" said Ion softly, not to be heard by the others."Yes, I did, and honestly I have to tell you I was surprised you could just stay there and do nothing," Titu answered shaking his head."What could I have done, young master?" Ion whispered, gritting his teeth. "If I'd slapped him, I could have killed him and gone to prison for ever… And then, you see, it's not the fault of the person who does it, but of whoever puts him up to it!..." Titu drew close lest he should miss a whisper. And because Ion went silent, he poked him:"Really? So you think somebody put him up to it?""Yes, I'm sure, I could swear on the cross… Don't you know he wants to marry off Ana to George, Toma Buluc's son?""Oh, to George?""Exactly. He keeps saying that out loud, so that even dogs could hear it… And now judge for yourself who's to blame." Just to egg him on, Titu tried to calm him down:"All right, but maybe George didn't tell him to…" Furious, Ion interrupted him:"Oh dear, young master, how can you say something like that? I know it only too well that George hates my guts… Don't you know that he's been after Ana, and for such a long time too? Anuţa doesn't want him because she doesn't like him, and now he wants to take revenge on me…" Titu kept quiet for a while, thinking, and then he said slowly:"Bad, too bad, George is up to this kind of thing…""Don't think I'll go away tonight without thrashing him. Maybe only if God strikes me out of the blue… Otherwise they'll carry him away in a sheet…" The lad was choking on his anger. Titu got scared and said to Ion quietly and sincerely:"Cool down, Ion, or you'll get into trouble!""If it should cost me ten years in prison, I still won't stop until I've seen his blood!" whispered Ion, fuming like a dragon, clenching his fists and shaking…


by Liviu Rebreanu (1885-1944)