Tănase Scatiu

excerpt At Scatiu's they had prepared two tables: one for the minister and for the high-brow people, in the large dining-room; the other, for the "rabble," in a room downstairs. Scatiu's plans were really great; he wanted to offer the minister a feast of fifty people, with first-quality wine, prepared and tasted by Banica himself but he had been prevented from all these by Tincuta who controlled everything from her room. She knew that the smallest party in their house ended in drunkenness and debauchery and thought it wiser not to expose the minister to such shows. He shouted, cursed and complained that she would think only of herself without taking into consideration his electors and his popularity. He felt that she was right but, as he didn't want to let the others believe he was led by a woman, he, the influent deputy, decided to divide the guests into two categories. This idea was offending to those who were classified as "the rabble" but it was practical. On the other hand, the sub-officers, the elective agents, some of the little merchants were happy to eat peacefully in a corner, having "the holy water" at their hand, rather than speak in sharps and trebles at the minister's table.A wooden shed made the passage between the dining-room from upstairs and that from downstairs, and the brass band was situated in its middle in order to be heard from everywhere.The minister entered the dining-room a little bit low-spirited. Scatiu was ignorant of what had happened on the way to his house, so he thought that was how a great man ought to behave. Everything went well throughout dinner, except for different kinds of curses whispered under their breath on Costica's account. The brass band played correctly, the band master was dressed up to the ninths and had turned his back to the musicians and his face to the diners, staring at the colonel. When the time to toast came, things got a little mixed up but they all behaved themselves. Some of them wished they had been seated at the other table, where people had started to chatter freely from the second course.As soon as the minister's dinner ended, some of the most impatient ones dashed off to the others' table. The colonel, who had no taste for drinking plain water, leaned against a barrel of "cursed wine" (in the words of the priest) which was so good that it made you throw your kamelaukion to the dogs!Later they laid the table for the soldiers, closed the door to the shed looking out over the rooms from upstairs and thus the noise seemed to have faded away. At midnight, the minister, who was dead tired from the journey, went to bed. Everybody sighed in relief.When he was about to fall asleep the brass band started playing again. Although it was hidden in one of the downstairs rooms, the trombone and the piccolo were loud enough. There was especially one cursed horn blower that was playing a doina so enthusiastically that it seemed he was about to come to his last breath. He started playing in low, dallying, long notes and then he mischievously lifted the sounds until he reached two pitched notes which he tormented for an hour.The poor minister fidgeted in his bed, pulled the duvet over his eyes, buried his head under the pillows, hoping that God would be merciful enough to let him rest. But precisely when he was about to fall asleep the horn blower turned the horn towards him and the two high notes pierced the air like two invisible arrows and found their way to the minister's ears. He sat up on one side of the bed and looked down hopelessly."Damn you!" he said.Meanwhile, the boyars who had been seated upstairs had gone to those from downstairs and the party had turned into real debauchery. Firmly believing that the minister could hear nothing, they howled and yelped as if in a menagerie. Everyone had unleashed his true nature. The school inspector had taken off his coat and, side by side with the priest, sang in church-like manner, marking the rhythm on the table, with fist blows. "The seventh voice, you Holy Joe!" Husky with so much shouting, the priest could hardly croak, uttering some angry cock-like sound every now and then, with his head towards the inspector and his forefinger near his nose, to keep the beat."Are you deaf? The seventh voice!""I've got a really hoarse voice, bro!""Why don't you drink some holy water?"The priest drank another glass and then leaned himself against the other, his forefinger to his nose.Everybody had his tic. Next to the priest and his finger, there came the colonel. He had unbuttoned his tunic and now he was looking at the musicians in dismay; everything seemed blurry around him; he held out his hands as if to protect himself from an invisible enemy. Whenever the musicians played in a higher pitch, he ground his teeth and danced madly as if broken-hearted. But he was only just awfully pixilated. When the song was to be changed, there was much trouble; everybody had his own preferences. The mayor, who was sitting astride on a chair and kept laughing, tried to sweeten his request:"Dear band master, won't you, please, play Frunza verde bir oita?"Alexandriu wanted Mascota. He went to the band master, begging him:"Mon cher, you know, that piece from Mascota, where the turkeys cluck, golu, golu, golu."Panaitopolu pushed him away:"Give me a break, won't you. Dear master, I want you to play Ivanovici's waltz, ti-ra-ra-ri."In order to exemplify what he wanted, he started singing in a coarse voice, barking uselessly. The band master couldn't make out anything. Then, Panaitopolu called out for the policeman who had played the flute in his youth."Nica, Nica!"As the latter could not hear him, he started calling him names:"You, rogue! You, nasty little scum! Don't you hear me?"The skinny policeman had smallpox marks on his cheeks and dull whiskers; he was unrivalled when it came to partying: he would have been capable of drinking the wine from a whole vineyard without showing. He jumped from his seat and came near to Panaitopolu."Your orders, sir.""Take a flute and play Ivanovici's waltz."The policeman took a flute from a soldier, blew some unmelodious notes and then he started playing vigorously. Panaitopolu accompanied him in a husky tone of voice, spinning his arms in the air and leaning back. All of a sudden, Tanase Scatiu sprang in the middle of the room. Up to that moment he had stayed aloof, whispering a folk song that he wanted to remember. He grabbed the band master and told him:"This one!"Then he tried to hum it but he wasn't able to."Damn it, I have been singing it all night long!"In order to please him, the band master asked the soldiers to try every single song that they knew. The din was so dazzling and deafening that you couldn't make anything out of it. "No, not this one. This one neither."Finally, at the fourth one, they seemed to approach the good one."Yes, that one!"Then he took off his vest and his boots and he started dancing, his arms akimbo. The others surrounded him and watched him kneading the ground with his toes, kicking the floor, twisting his ankles, kneeling then jumping up as if he had the devil in him. After having tormented himself this way for about a quarter of an hour, he crashed on a chair."See? These are genuine, native songs, not those waltzes and other concoctions that Alexandriu was asking for. Golo, golu, as if he was gargling his throat."Meanwhile, colonel Stamate, lying on the floor like a log, grabbed Tanase's shoes and filled them with ham and beef. Some were dancing in the corners, everyone on their own; some were sleeping on chairs. Two or three little merchants, feeling that time had come to leave, hid tangerines in their pockets.At dawn the carriages took them to their homes and thus the party ended, to Scatiu's great satisfaction, who believed it dishonorable for him that people be sober when they left his house.As for the minister, he was awoke by the noise of the wheels on the stony pavement; he sat up in bewilderment, asking himself whether there was an earthquake or the end of the world had come.

by Duiliu Zamfirescu (1858-1922)