The Beoble!

Our century witnessed the birth and death of a most interesting state, a state that no conscientious historian is allowed to overlook. I mean the Republic of Ploieşti, a state that, in spite of its only fifteen hours of life, has undoubtedly written a most famous page in our contemporary history. Born of, through, and for the people at about 2 a.m. on the 8th of August 1870, the young republic was strangled to death that very same afternoon, at about 4. Which doesn't mean anything! The greatness and importance of states is judged not be their size and duration but by the more or less momentous role played in the universal context. This frame is too tight for me to fit within it the entire history of the joyful vineyard republic. What I want to do is just bring my own contribution to the recording of the material necessary to a future historian; and I am entitled to do it for I was a citizen of that republic. I witnessed its grandeur and its decadence, and not as a loafer but as an official. When the people took over the police station, I sprang forward and disarmed the under-commissary on duty, taking his sword from the nail where it was hanging. I girdled myself with it and was extremely fortunate that the President of the Republic passed by me. I was seventeen; my decided look drew the President's attention – he appointed me under-commissary instead of the brute I had just disarmed. Today, when I hope my guilt against the monarchy has been forgiven, I have the courage to declare this proudly. Yes, I was one of the fiercest supporters of order in the Republic of Ploieşti. Glorious hours, I shall never forget you! My superior, the policeman, was the nice and brave Stan Popescu, one of Giuseppe Garibaldi's 1000 men – a volunteer in Italy, volunteer in a Polish revolution, sworn enemy of tyrants and passionate brother of the people. One would gladly follow such a leader into the fire for the sake of a noble idea. The previous night, on the 7th of August, several conspirators, among whom Stan Popescu, had been playing the game called kilometre in the dining hall of the 'Moldova' hotel while waiting for news (where from? History cannot as yet answer that question). What does kilometre mean? It's a very innocent and very simple game – here it is. The players, irrespective of their number, sit at a table in the corner of a dining hall. Everybody is given a bottle of wine. They start drinking. When one has finished the bottle, he puts it on the floor, along the wall of the dining hall. The second bottle emptied, he places it right next to the previous one, and so on, until the row of bottles reaches the opposite wall – the kilometre. He who reaches the kilometre first has won the game – the others have to pay for all the bottles he has drunk, in fair proportion according to the number of bottles they still lack to get to the target. Needless to say that when all the participants are top players a second round may well take place, just as they often draw. That night Stan had won the first game with a clear advantage. At about one in the morning, when they were just about to begin a new game, three taps could be heard on the pane, at some interval. The players, forgetting all about their innocent pastime, got up frowning. The tocsin had struck. The holy cause of the people was calling them to the battlefield of honour. Time for action… They all start in a silent and determined group. They get out of the hotel passageway and head towards the cattle fair. More and more bevies join in from all sides; they melt in one big crowd; the more this brave people advance the greater its number. At 2.30 a.m. the telegraph falls in the hands of the Republicans; all the wires are cut off and the place is confiscated. At 4 the gates of the prison on Rudu Road open for the republicans jailed there. At 5 the line battalion from the St Nicholas barracks transfer allegiance to the President. By 5.30 the Republican police is organised; as a civilian guard of the Republic, the people is armed with swords confiscated from firemen and policemen, with shotguns, pistols, and cudgels. At 6, in Union Square – which is full of people –, right on the spot where today stands erect the statue of Liberty (for the citizens of Ploieşti, the grateful Nation!), the President, mounted on a chair for mincing sausages, reads out the solemn act declaring the Republic. At 7 wine barrels are opened at every street corner in the triumphant notes of the 1848 heroic march. At 8 a part of the crowd together with the policeman and a band of fiddlers go to Lipănescu's garden restaurant. On the grass there begins such a party as the annals of the oldest republics have no record of. The grills sizzle and hot and greasy smoke billows from them like from some ancient altars on which offerings to some tutelary divinity burn. The bunghole once opened cannot be closed again. The empty barrels rattle away like some rusty institutions that can no longer meet the modern exigencies and, in their stead, full barrels are rolled close, like some reforms demanded by the progressive spirit of the times and the vital interests of the society. Such merriment! Such impetus! Such enthusiasm!… Ah! Sublime are the moments when a people breaks free from the ties and chains of tyranny and, casting them away, confident in its right, without a trace of hatred and forgetting the terrible past, proposes toast after sincere toast to the holy Freedom and – kisses you! Oh! I had been in Lipănescu's garden for a few hours. The hurricane of enthusiasm was growing ever more powerful when an incredible honour made it reach its climax. The President – yes! in flesh and blood! – followed by an adjutant came to visit our party and to toss down a mug with his people. The great man addressed us a few words. He was most content with the behaviour of his brave people from Ploieşti who had, as always, been ready to sacrifice themselves for freedom. What followed was fanaticism, a fury! All the mugs smashed to the ground, all the hats tossed up in the air along with 'Hurrah! Long live the Republic!' The President left, taking Stan Popescu, the policeman, with him… Slowly, together with the last sausages, steaks, and drinks, the martyr people started trickling away too… The bill was probably to be passed on to the future budget of the Republic. I then remembered I had some parents waiting, so I went straight home with the sword still girdled over my waistcoat. My late mother was a very kind but old-fashioned woman, a reactionary spirit; she was very far from understanding the political importance of the democratic forms. She had found out about what was going on in the city and she was worried sick about me seeing I was not showing up for breakfast. She made a terrible scene – why had I mingled with the tramps, did I want to make her look a fool in the neighbourhood, or did I perhaps want to bring my father, who was seriously ill, to an early grave; then she ordered me to stay in. Any protest was in vain; in vain did I tell her, pointing to my weapon, that I was holding a public office and had to carry out my duty: she took the sword and threw it, where? I've no idea, and she locked my boots and hat in a trunk. She kept me thus imprisoned for a week, until the danger had passed. So much the better! For what was going on with the Republic while I was at home crying spiteful tears for the shameful fate of my sword? At about 3.30 that afternoon, in the wagons of the – at the time unfinished – Bucharest-Ploieşti rail, was hurriedly arriving in the Republic a most terrible guest. Who was it? It was the Reaction. The Reaction at its most horrible and hideous – a whole battalion of light infantry with Major Gorjan in command. The moment they alighted on that holy ground they started hunting the Republicans. The Reaction was primarily looking for the President; but the latter, by some inexplicable coincidence, had crossed the eastern border, the Bucov barrier, out of the Republic the very same moment the Reaction had crossed the western border, the Rudu barrier, in. In three hours of chasing the soldiers arrested more than six hundred children of the people. The prison and four inns transformed in prisons were seething with Republicans. Wise woman, my mother! God rest her soul! She didn't have much education but the political caution she proved! Imagine the Reaction finding me with that sword around my waist! The Reaction reinstated brutally the statu quo ante. The President was caught that evening by the mounted prefecture police on the road to Buzău, past Lipia, about 40 km away from the eastern borders of his State. When the riders howled: 'Stop!' he, who was walking, had the courage to stop. And when they asked him: 'What were you doing here?' he answered concisely: 'Walking.' And since when you're walking it doesn't make any difference if you're walking this way or that way, the bastards had him walk all the way back. Back and back again! Never forward! This is the slogan of the Reaction. What about the policemen?… What had become of Stan Popescu? He had gone to take possession of his oilcloth chair in the police station chancery. He hadn't slept for two days… The kilometre game… then the rush with the people… then the morning festivities at Lipănescu's… the enthusiasm… He felt exhausted, and the coolness of the chancery was so pleasant. A sweet numbness, only too natural after so many emotions, so much triumph, was pressing hard on his brave skull. The man folded his arms on his desk, laid his head carefully and, lovingly thinking about the future of the young Republic, he fell asleep. He was the next most wanted, after the President – whom they had tracked and after whom the riders had already set out, - and it took them so little to find him. Major Gorjan bursts the door open and enters the chancery accompanied by his brutes. The policeman is snoring, head on the table. The Major takes four big steps and hits the table as hard as he can. Stan Popescu stirs out of slumber with eyes half open.'Who put you here?' the Reactionary howls.'The Beoble!' answers the Republican in a gruff voice. That was all the Reaction needed! When it heard about the beoble it went berserk: it grabbed Stan and took him straight to the Monk's Inn! That was the end of our Republic! That was how the Reaction tore the most heroic page of the Romanian liberalism!

by I. L. Caragiale (1852-1912)