The Death of Castor

A few years ago, on a day in September, I had been walking alone and aimlessly through the streets, seized by an unutterable wanderlust triggered by the infinite blue of the sky and the dizzying charm of autumn when, all of a sudden, at a crossroads, I came up against the Major. "Hello, what a surprise! Still here? I thought you had left for home..." "How do you mean left for home? You know I work here." "Well, I had heard your mother was ill and..." "How do you know that?" "My sister came back from there last night and she told me your mother was very ill." If the Major was telling me my mother was very ill, this meant that she was so, indeed, it had to be more than her usual ailments. The same night, after a journey that seemed to me the longest I had made in my entire life, I arrived at my mother's place. The anguish I had been subject to and that made me pass without saying a word by the servants who had come out to welcome me, vanished soon as I found my mother well, though, indeed, thinner than I had left her. "Is that you, dear?" And the poor blind woman, unable to see me, was feeling me over the chest, over the face. I took her hands and kissed them and chided her for not having told me about her condition. "But I haven't been ill... who told you that? It was the Major, then. Now I see... His sister came to see me. She hadn't seen me after the tragedy and probably imagined she was going to find me as she had always known me." Indeed, if the Major's sister hadn't seen her since my father's death, it was quite understandable that she had told her brother that my mother was very ill, since she had found the woman who, only a year before had been young and beautiful, looking suddenly ten years older and unable to see. "And if you find me look thinner now and exhausted, it's because I haven't been able to sleep for two nights because of poor Castor." "How's that?" The answer to my question came almost immediately as I heard a long, terrible howl coming from outside, near the window. "That's how he's been howling for more than two days now. This is already the third. I don't know what's the matter with him. The maid says he was poisoned. I guess it's rather his old age..." Reassured as far as my mother's health was concerned, I was beginning to worry about the dog's and I got out into the yard where I found Castor lying pitifully near the window, his mouth open. The maid, who knew how much we all loved him, was bent over him and tried to make him drink some milk. "What's wrong with him, Maria?" She couldn't tell, either. For two days he had been lying in the sun, howling and refusing to eat. She had tried every cure she knew, but to no avail. He was getting worse and worse. "Let's try and give him this milk." Helped by the woman, I forcefully fed the dog all the milk in the cup. Apparently feeling better, he got up, sniffed me, wagged his tail, then he lay back again with a long, painful howl. It was late. Mother was sleeping. I could hear her regular breathing through the open door between our rooms – she must have stayed awake for two nights if she could sleep now with all Castor's almost uninterrupted moans. What kept me awake, however, were not so much his howls, but the many memories and thoughts that the sight of his suffering had suddenly brought to my mind. How clearly I saw the summer nights when I visited my estate to go hunting! There I am, lying on the porch that is lit by the full moon light as if we were at noon, unable to sleep because of the cries of the quails which can be heard everywhere around, here almost like the sound of two colliding stones, over there like two drops of water falling into a full jug. Castor gets up now and then and comes to sniff me, worried by my sleeplessness. Here we are, hunting in a golden field. Sixty yards away, Castor is galloping, his head up, searching. He suddenly stops, as if thunderstruck, a bronze statue, his tail right up, a leg in the air. One step further, in front of him, the quail is sitting, mesmerized. I come closer and cry at him: "Pil!" He jumps, the quail flies away and I shoot. "Apporte!" and he fetches it. It's still alive, all fluttering wings. Here we are, hunting woodcocks in the reeds at Lazuri; Castor is searching the place slowly and meticulously while in the nearby field the peasants are welcoming the first storks that are coming, cheering and throwing their hats in the air. When I came back home during the holidays, they would bring him with them to the railway station to welcome me. People stopped to admire the sight of the dog expressing his boundless happiness at seeing his master again after a three months' absence; and after I left, my mother wrote me how he entered my room and sniffed my hunting clothes that were hanging on the stand and licked them. My father had brought him to me. I still see him, the day I came back from the high-school graduation exam, welcoming me at the top of the staircase together with my mother and saying: "God bless you, my son, and may He return you all the joy you are now giving us." Then he took me by the hand and led me to my room where I was to have the most unexpected surprise: on the wall there was a panoply with everything I needed for hunting, my hobby; and from under the bed Castor comes out, happy as if he had known me for ages. Oh! How happy I was then! Happy not just for the beautiful present, but for everything I had. As in that moment, in front of my parents, rejuvenated by my happiness, I first understood how important it was for someone to have honest parents, a good and united family: a mother who would deny herself everything so that her children should have all they needed; a father whom everyone respected, raising their hats to him. A family house that had passed from generation to generation, and loving and faithful servants that had grown old in our service. It was my father, indeed, that the moaning of Castor reminded me of. I could see myself coming back with him from hunting. He would always come and take me back home in his gig, I could hear the unforgettable sound of the springs of the gig, I could hear my father's voice and the endless choir of the crickets. It was in vain that I covered my ears, trying to get some sleep. My mind, now full of memories of past events, would not allow itself to fall asleep, but revived so many experiences that amazed me by the clearness with which their were remembered. (Barely a year has passed since then. I can see the table laid from one end to the other of the dining room. All the relatives and friends are present. The fiddlers are playing old songs. One of the children stands up and raises the glass to drink his health. My father stands up, too, somehow annoyed by the efforts he's making to hide his emotion. He takes his glass: "My dear children, I and your mother have always tried to set a good example for you. May God..." but he chokes as he bursts into tears. Then mother bends over him and kisses him as everybody present cheers and the fiddlers play for him... How far all these seemed to be now... When we lost him, it was not just him, our beloved parent, that died. Death didn't take just him as we buried him in his grave on a cold, rainy, autumn day. It also took the whole purpose of our family, who were now scattered in so many places. I was wondering, but could not find an answer, what had separated us after his death and why we were not coming to live with our mother, together, helping her, taking care of her. How foolish we were! I was certainly going to come back as soon as possible and live with her and start rebuilding the glory of our house, shattered by the breath of death. "Ah! But this is impossible!" I continued arguing with myself. And now the moaning of Castor seemed to me to be voicing my silent despair at the downfall of my family. The next morning I am woken up by the same wailing voice of the dog. I get dressed, I take my rifle from its peg and two cartridges from the drawer of the table, and go out into the yard. "Castor, come here!" Castor, who has lain motionless all night long, miraculously gets up and follows me. The maid, who saw me and understood what I was about to do, runs into the kitchen, crying. "Castor, come here!" Castor painfully crawls after me to the field across the road. There he lies down on the right side exposing his heart. After all was over, I got back home as if chased by someone, I got into my room and threw the rifle onto the bed... The door on the right opened. Mother came into the room feeling her way and hugged me. Maria and Dinu came in through the other door; they had been our servants for more than thirty years. And we all silently mourned the death of Castor, who was taking with him far, far away, the times of a happiness for ever gone. Translated by Dan Mateescu 

by Ioan Al. Brătescu-Voineşti (1868-1946)