from A Concert of Bach's Music The Amzei Church had donned a festive appearance. People had started coming as early as three o'clock, and by four – the time of the ceremony – the street was crowded with carriages and automobiles. An archbishop was serving. On remembering that this was how they would go about it in Tecuci for the girls, Lina had hired the brass band; they were now resting behind the church, having gotten there quite in time. After considering the issue with Elena and Nory, who had both voiced their approval for a service accompanied by a choir, she had also consented to "The Song," who had now joined the permanent church choir. A kind of posthumous zeal, that Lică's drastic intervention must have unclenched into being, now followed the stubbornness. It may possibly have also had something to do with the feeling of compensation which abided by the laws of giving to people who no longer needed anything. The neighbors had filled up the old yard. As the deceased had not been from that neighborhood, no one knew exactly who she was. Some were saying an actress from the Opera House had died, others, a deputy. The alternative rumor that a maiden had been brought from the hospital was also quite current, as worded along by people who had witnessed the setting up of the bier. Some added she had "had a catching disease." The coffin was covered. All the chandeliers were lit and the flowers were gradually piling up, thanks to elegant ladies all dressed in black. There were many men there, too, displaying correct mourning attires. A wonderful April day, warm and gilt. Many had remained on the stairs or in the pulpit and, honoring the holiness of the place, were unobtrusively chatting away. The fine day outside rendered their whispering voices joyful and their faces bright. In point of fact, it was an indifferent ceremony. Most all of them were there on different considerations. Intimate friends of the Drăgăneşti were there in copious numbers together with the entire Bach concert in the flesh, all paying ingratiating attention to Elena on account of the fine weather. It was one of those days when you would simply go out for a stroll, even if it was to a funeral. Things may have been different in rainy weather. Many of Lina's clients had also come, on recently hearing that a close relative had passed away; there were the colleagues from Filantropia, all too eager or merely curious students of Rim's and other connections of the various main "players." Aunt Mari with a bit of a contingent had placed herself far back under the choir's balcony, sharing the spot with Sia's former classmates from the nursing school, who had found out about it and were there, although the unexpected pomp now seemed intimidating. They had lively-colored hats, some even with red flowers, so they were hiding behind a thick row of black coats. Some of the girls would recognize a "guy":"See that one over there, tall, black hair? He's so-and-so. He stalks me in the street. To the left, second one, well good looking, I know him…"The painter Greg, who was wearing his sortie on his shoulders in admirable fashion, had great success. The mob was now crowding in and you could feel the faint rustling of people breathing down each other's necks. A waving violent fragrance of wreathed hyacinths or a sweet overflow of ripe violets from a simple and aristocratic bouquet would every now and again piece the rustling.The proximity of the funeral drone was obvious to everyone but all this vibrating was still in the background. One could hear well now the deacon's tenor voice coming from the back. An ordering move was made. The public broke up in various groups. A wider circle around the center of the church was leaving the bier unattended. Lina, heading a row of strangers, was closest by. Less knowing acquaintances were unsuccessfully asking themselves in what way Lina was related to that girl, without indeed succeeding much. No one among the rest wondered about the strange relational pattern that had brought them together. All stiff and with an overstarched shirt front, Rim was standing by the bishop's throne, one could say he was even leaning against it a little like a man not trusting his own legs. His faithful pages, the Hallipa twins hid behind him with dumbfounded expressions as though they had just climbed down the electric chair at the last moment and were unable to believe in reprieve. They had wondered extensively whether to come or not and had ended up like criminals revisiting the crime scene. In the very first row was Mrs. Eliza Hallipa, Doru Hallipa's second wife, plump, pretty, in a black silk dress. The friendly relations both she and Doru had kept up with Lina explained her presence there. The sight of her would have filled the twins with poisonous envy on any other day. Today, though, they were standing before the bier as if it were a scaffold. In their double preoccupation they were still wondering whether they had murdered Sia and would consequently have to answer for it. Rim, who could feel their disturbing presence behind him, knew he had not killed her and the thought darkened his mood like an offence. Elena, with her grave and serene face, was standing by Lina's side. Mini was also close by, hypnotized by the violet reflection of a stained-glass window. As always in an agitated mood and unable to keep quiet, Nory was whizzing about the place, whispering with intern Romulus from Filantropia. Sia had lain in the maternity but Romulus knew all the details.A difficult and rare case! Professor G. would not otherwise have failed… False conformation…a double vaginal tract. Bad placement complicated by an infection and the late treatment. When they had brought her to the hospital the septicemia was in an advanced state."Just look at the coffin!" Indeed, it was so deep and wide that it almost seemed short, although it was nevertheless quite long. A misshapen coffin."It's growing still," Nory said skeptically.Then she burst out covertly in her gloves: "So she could stand a double emploi naturally…not a triple." She looked in Rim's direction… "It's come to a bad end!"Sia inspired her no compassion, not even posthumously. Nevertheless, terribly alone she was, there in that festive church, the morose Sia, no affection around her. Although everything was permeated with decency and respect, there was no sadness. Lina had a thought-laden blood-shot face whose absent-mindedness clearly applied to the ceremony, whereas Rim was taking on an ever more discontent expression as the service struck more lugubrious tones. One could use some air now. Mini's violet stained-glass window was opened leaving in light streaks and a trace of cool air. Everyone breathed in. Mini was now hypnotized by that patch of sky. The dirge came as an unpleasant surprise for the audience, forcing them to turn away from the blissful spring day. The unison of remembering had caused Rim to startle; he found that Sia had been ill inspired to provide him with such a holiday. He twitched."Doomed maid," he sighed to Drăgănescu, who was trying to find the suitable comforting words.A little sob was heard, but not of crying. Sensitive as she was, the beautiful Lenora, Elena's mother, had gotten angry. She had come there with her second husband, doctor Walter, but without her sweet girl Coca-Aimée. Usually inseparable, her absence and their relative isolation now disturbed them. They had come because Lina was still emotionally attached to cousin Lenora. On entering, princess Ada had exchanged views on the tragedy with so-and-so:"Just a child!"Quite amazed then before the bier, she had added a bit to her age:"Only 17," she said.Ada had stopped right in the middle of the church and had Marcian next to her, who felt protected from himself in this way, having come there with no apparent reason, although the entire Bach concert had. The artists had formed a group in the back to the left, together with the lower-ranked medical stuff. Aunt Mari alone was secretly squeezing her handkerchief dry. Since Lina had bent to tell her something related to the ceremony, Elena slowly crept up beside Drăgănescu, who went on the errand. Elena was left next to Vlădici, who was fiddling with his eyeglass for continence, as funerals were the only fashionable gatherings that bored him.The circle around the bier was getting ever wider, while the place grew stuffier despite the coffin's tightness and the smell of flowers. Two more oblong panes were opened at once. Another crystal-clear stream and some bird-twittering came in. A bluish spiral of incense curled up and disappeared out the window, leaving behind a pleasant waste of spices.The sun had probably fallen lower. Mini, who could see neither the violet reflection nor the silky strip of sky anymore, was lured by the gold that was drawing whimsical lines on the icons in the shadowy part of the church; these lines glowed so preciously, that the light that was coming through the ogives, the chandeliers' electricity and the flames of thick candles seemed dull. Here was a tiara, there just a bandeau, a star somewhere, or the river-like harmonious curve that was surrounding a saint's toga. Mini wasn't at all thinking about Sia or the Rims' tragedy. These were already delivered things for her."How beautiful the gold is!" she said quietly to Nory."You don't say!"A new sound broke out just then, ending the parsons' unison. Mini thought it was coming from the painted front partition, where the noble outline of some lilies was flickering. The slight shaking had indeed originated in the back pulpit. As if golden gongs were swinging and the old silken garb of the icons was rustling there, above the choir. The choir was singing a fragment from the Oratorio. One by one, the Bach vocal group had mounted the spiral staircase to join their comrades. Elena suddenly felt her eyes moistening and wiped them intently with her fine, black-rimmed handkerchief. She would have wanted to look behind to the place where she had seen Marcian standing, but she didn't dare turn her head. She hadn't even noticed she was now beside Ada Maxenţiu, from whose side Marcian had disappeared.The voices seemed to start a whisper presently vanishing in the air, a kind of sigh that the sky gathered, while the same feeble rumble that only golden gongs could have issued, was making its way through with the prelude.This broken off and repeated phrase and those voices' endeavor to express their grief to each other was sending oblong chills up the now common spine of the audience. Under the weight of that outburst, everyone bent down like before God. Three or four times the united wings of those voices flapped in the wake of a single tone, combined in its worn out delicacy of so many overlapping sounds, still covered by the accompaniment like soft lattice. Then, slowly, bells of voice started, drawing ever nearer. They grew as strong as to resound over the entire building, causing the chandelier dents to shake. The strength of the sounds was now matching the repeatedly magnified intensity of the crescendo but seemed however to pass through a cloud that smoothened its every stridency. Mini thought she could see a numerous procession coming in. It was the looks of those people in the pulpit who now bent towards the church interior and had directed their souls that way. Like a deaf, huge rumbling, the voices' ascent was cut short… a sharp call like the cutting-edge of a thin blade was heard, a special soprano, a sexless archangel-like voice, mounting the zigzag of glory like the bright coil of lightning. And then a permanent echo settled in, which all voices served in their mezzo. A feeble invocation here and there, which rose from the tenor or the soprano, and the continuous ribbon of a melody started to perpetrate everyone as if coming from an unending ball which was turning its silken volutes upon themselves in hundreds of ripples. In its continuity the melody gave one pulse breaks and its thread tied like meshes around one's neck made up one stifling knit through which your breath crept like sobbing. All eyes were a little moist. The harmony would sometimes swell up as if from a ferment or grow like dough while sometimes it would come apart like mould. Successively entwined then trebled voices started to chant hosannas. Then regular, equal chords started from the golden gongs of the base accompaniment, following each other methodically, always fuller, rounder… There were fiery phrases, that were questioning nothingness… The chords grew in number, were chasing each other, systematic cohorts, troubled however by their own successive, almost simultaneous pace. Their were coming up ever more frequently, though at cadence, they were obsessive, they would lock hearing inside their spaces like chaos caught in a mountain valley. Tough, inexorable, the grief engrossed in the murmur of vocal chords was climbing its unending path to eternity like a heavy, dolorous legion. It seemed their tread would never cease up there in infinity, their tread down here, thrust in a room convulsed by the one and the same spasm, in the single body of those that were alive there, in the church…The choir had finished and the echo was still coming. Nory pushed her hands against her ears in order to set them free from the tremble of resonances. "Yesterday!…," Elena whispered."Admirable!," princess Ada answered her.Elena looked at her surprised at her presence there where she had been feeling so alone and at home with her thoughts, nevertheless totally unknown to Ada. The previous day the Bach chorale had moved Elena to self-oblivion and intimidation. Today's choir had led her towards a sort of inner joy devoid of physical energy. Of all present, she alone had listened to it like a hymn of glory rather than of mourning; she and Mini, who had thought the gold was singing. The other ones must have been thinking of God, as hands not fully untangled attempted crossing themselves with black or grayish gloves. Aunt Mari was doing rosaries and Lenora was crossing herself fully. Elena, too, motioned her hands, now free from the long gloves. A gesture of vague adoration. She, too, had witnessed the godliness of harmony. So Marcian had climbed up as well… One was able to feel the mastery of his conductor's hands…He had climbed up there, in a church pulpit, with some choir people because…just because! Elena raised her head, although she would rather have turned it back. The fine line of her nose and chin was very clear. The painter Greg noticed that she was very beautiful in that pose, however, haunted as he was by the sacred melody, he sublimated his thought.As no one would move towards the final good-bye, the archbishop said something to the people in front. A kind of hesitation was keeping the service on a standstill. There was a slight move forward. Lina rushed towards the bier, raised her veil, let it down again and retreated. Rim was in two minds. Should he approach or not? His head and arms were staggering like a pendulum. Bored with the slow rhythm, the priest made an inviting gesture. All pale, Rim approached and bent his head formally over the wreaths. Heavy drops were sliding among the flowers, trickling out of the sweaty coffin. Rim's legs were now vibrating like loose strings. He thought of his gout and his face twitched with discontent showing his greater ugliness; he looked to have had it with maiden kisses: "Unruly maid!" he said to himself sternly. Behind him the twins were taking refuge like fugitives. The music had brought about self-questioning. They were wondering together over and over in suspicious thoughts: Were they the ones to have killed her?, and whenever Rim moved they would place themselves in his shadow, inseparable accomplices and omens of disaster. Hidden like that they managed to avoid the ceremony of saying good bye to Sia. In fact, no one else apart from the priests was now dealing with the final farewell. Once the hypnosis of music had waned away, everyone was moving slowly towards the exit. They were hastily resuming their enchantment with the wonderful day. Indifferent to the ceremony, they would forget it easily and leave for the spring in relaxed groups. The automobiles would wait at ease. No engine thumps, no horns broke the silence. In the green yard outside the church, the assistants were stopping in languid companies to talk about the heat, the music. Coming out among the last, Mini took Nory by the hand:"Who is that gentleman…behind the pillar?"Being short-sighted, Nory peered in that direction:"He's a handsome man, she said. A stranger…and yet I feel I know him!""Handsome or not, who might it be?…Maybe we saw seen him in a film!""God no. You don't expect movie stars to have attended Sia's funeral as well!""He's probably looking like some film actor, otherwise I wouldn't know him!""Well, from the street or somewhere?… Expressive head! Expressive of what though? You tell me, you're better at this!" Nory said."The gentleman thief!" Mini laughed quietly, enjoying the air outside.The profile of the handsome gentleman behind the pillar had a small shaven face with emphasis on the straight features. The eyelid covering the eye, a small scar that permanent will seemed to have engraved in his cheek, the bitter and aggressive corner of his mouth and the perfectly still bearing of a "gentleman" in black. Following Mini and Nory came the sinister Rim in the company of the twins, tugging them along like some evil sickness, without as much as exchanging a word or a look. He didn't know at what moment enmity had replaced the understanding between them. Rim stopped by the outside column of the church in isolation and surprise. Then, like two detached caterpillars, the twins slid towards the carriages, towards salvation. The good Lina had been left alone inside with the priests and the hearse-drivers. Weeping freely now, aunt Mary came by her side, not daring to speak. Lina couldn't see her. In a deafening but croaking voice, she had found a reason for squabbling with the funeral service personnel.The coffin, having been topped with yet another lid, was finally taken out with difficulty. The bells tolled, but only a numb couple of times. The cymbals struck once…Winding behind the church, Nory gestured forbiddingly towards the brass band, who wanted to play the march. Elena approved from a distance. A brass band after that choir! The automobiles started moving along orderly, slowly, one by one, with hardly any noise. People were working hard to get Sia on board the hearse. Aunt Mari had come out to cry beside the funeral carriage.Lina had paid off the priests and had let them leave for the carriages. She was on the point of coming out last. All of a sudden she took a fright! She lost her breath. Someone had come out in front of her from behind a post. She was looking with bulged eyes, without understanding or seeing. Then her complexion turned purple-black, just like the dress. It was Lică! He delivered it to her face between his teeth:"Bitch!" and went out.Lina used the veil to wipe her cheek, as if spattered by that whirlpool of contempt. Her anxious face had now turned pale."Aha!" she said. "Aha!…"Her last inch of goodness was dying! When Lina, moving as if lead had all of a sudden filled her, was thoroughly helped up into the cart, aunt Mari whispered to her:"Are you not well?""Why, as well as ever! I'm going to live to be a hundred," she answered stately, hoarsely, looking at her without knowing who she was, and letting the fitting funeral crepe down over her ugly face. Aunt Mari stepped aside. She couldn't understand. But doctor Rim, who was standing there useless, not knowing what to do, had understood. Lina's words, which he thought were addressed to him, had fallen on him like rocks. Where were the joys of a landlord? Where – marital peace? Where – music, engravings and love? He shivered as if feverish! "Damn maid!" he said to himself, while a gentleman pushed him it into the cart. The door of the black box-like carriage closed behind the two inmates: Rim and Lia. In the churchyard, Nory elbowed Mini forcefully:"There he is!"Both of them looked in that direction, then at one another, and, each giving the other one the opportunity to decide, whispered together:"Lică!…Shaven!…""Well done, Lică!" Nory added, taking no time to recover from her surprise.So the man at the pictures, the man with the interesting profile and with a grin in the corner of his mouth was Lică! Lică the slicker, without the small moustache, with the contour of his mouth free from shadow, with the dimple tickled by the chestnut tip of the mustache turned stripe. Lică, without the lock on his forehead, close-cropped; Lică, gradually processed by progress, the hair-dresser and by as much suffering as he could take. There inside the church, behind the pillar, Lică remembered, although he otherwise never had: the child he had taken in the carriage like a parcel, the nannies in the slums, the girl he had dragged then everywhere by the hand, tied to his tramp's life. And then that coarse Sia that was growing up and offended his low-class troubadour's taste and his slender lance-corporal appearance: the faithful comrade, vicious like a hound…Then the stupid relative that was embarrassing the equestrian teacher and that girl who was murdered in a subhuman affair, who had refused to see him because she loved and feared him, and whom he had refused to see…And that dead woman, as he had seen her for five minutes, alone with her, she just after the brutal torture… Ugly and sad, horribly sad and ugly…Finally, right there, right now, the bier, the church, the choir, everything, while something unusual happened within him. Some sort of molding and dissolving. All images – himself, Sia, the others – brought together and broken apart and all his feelings muddled up, shrunk down to a rudiment like that of Sia for him, no accuracy: father, daughter, brother, sister, relation, what? All the same! A connection through the body, without the body, whichever way. A connection through the soul, although Lică had no idea what it was. An unclear connection that was now unearthing some roots with a force that could be pain. Something related to him, not in a very close manner, but which could not be undone, not to ever have been or to be again, it could not be formless matter, growing and breaking apart in his dim unconscious, like Sia in that coffin. And for the first time in his life, an hour spent in such a sad place, sad noises, that sad dead woman…he himself sad! As much as life and death could process Lică physically and morally, they had done so. That "handsome gentleman" from the pictures was the result. Mini was trying to convince Nory of the theory of features and the system of observing someone's "type." "In order to be able to read someone under final analysis, you change the look of his face. You grow his moustache or you shave it off. You cut his beard off or you attach one of various possible shapes, colors and sizes. You change his hairdo from longish to nil! In this way you can't fail to obtain the possibility of categorizing him in one of the main divisions of the 'type' or in some subclass: assassin, banker, swindler, conjuror, adventurer etc."Nory, cheeky as always, completed this list with a few more daring and freely worded categories.She noticed just then that her family were waiting for her. Elena was talking to Marcian, hesitating beside a marvelous Lincoln. She made a beckoning gesture to Nory, who was desperately pointing towards her own people whom she couldn't leave. Drăgănescu, who had come there with his wife, was looking at her from afar, waiting to see who she would leave with, so that he would now what to do.Mika-Le was walking beside him in her new black dress, in order no to be left without a carriage seat. The painter Greg had joined Drăgănescu and was talking to him about prince Maxenţiu! A veritable study in ivory, prince Maxenţiu before going away. He looked like a plate he had seen in the Fribourg museum: Tête de martyr sans nom! The painter wasn't concerned with Mika-Le. In fact he had never been so in the outside air, just in the shadowy workshop. Now he had lost all interest, but he was among those that dragged their offload along, the way saints flip through the record of their repented sins, so as not to become estranged with the presence of their impure conscience. Drăgănescu wasn't really paying attention to the painter, anxious to see Elena nicely placed. He thought she looked at him, upped the pace, although he was feeling very tired that day, he found walking more difficult and a heavy load between his shoulders.Not knowing how to organize the departure, Elena had indeed looked towards Drăgănescu and his company, but having seen Mini closer, she had invited her cheerfully to come along with her and Marcian. Mini turned to Nory:"Are we leaving the good Lina alone?" she said."Don't worry about her! She's taking it well…and she's everything but good!""Whoever was once good but changed because of the meanness of people is still good.""Amen!" Nory cut her short.The Rims' tragedy was summarized by these almost hostile words. Mini hurried towards Elena, who was waiting puzzled, and Nory to her sister, Dia.Pleased that everything was in its right place, Drăgănescu waved them goodbye. Now at ease, he would wait the arrival of another of their equipages."Mrs Elena has left!" said Mika-Le.Drăgănescu looked at her quizzically."Do you want to go with me?" he told her, thinking this was her interest.

by Hortensia Papadat-Bengescu (1876-1955)