The Enchanted Grove

Almost sixty years after the first edition, Lizuca – Victor Hugo's Cosette escaping into Lewis Carroll's Wonderland – became the heroine of a fantasy film directed by Gheorghe Naghi (The Enchanted Grove, 1980 - click here to see preview).

II: MISS LIZUCA IS PLANNING A DARING EXPEDITION "Come here, you spoiled brat," moaned the maid spitefully, pulling and tugging Lizuca by the hand and dragging the child after her. "Am I to get scolded because of you?" The little girl started to whine shrilly resisting the movement and pulling aside. "I'm going to tell daddy about that." "Are you, indeed? Are you going to tell on me?" And the maid pushed her forward with a kick. "For your information, the master is not coming home too soon, and before he comes back I'll skin you alive!" Lizuca pouted her lips, frowned and looked at her full of hate. "Well then!" the maid shouted. "What's that villainous stare? She is right the missus, she certainly is. You are such a bad, ill-tempered urchin!" And she seized again the child by the lap of her dress and gave her what they call a "screw" as she twisted the nail of her thumb and the knuckles of her forefinger into the crown of the girl's head. Seeing that the child held on bravely, she did it again, even more forcibly, more painfully, until she felt Lizuca's flesh quiver with pain under the fingers of the other hand, the one with which she held the little girl, and she heard the tears welling into Lizuca's little nose as the child was sniffing and about to burst. "And here's the interest, too," the woman giggled, as she slapped the little girl over her cropped head. "Get lost and don't come back until I call you!" Lizuca stumbled and bumped into the wall, head forward. Then, crying and sniffing, she cast another furtive, "villainous" glance at the maid. But Ileana had gone into the kitchen and her shrill, tempestuous voice could be heard as she talked to the cook. Miss Lizuca could dry her cheeks leisurely with the same part of her sleeve that she used in order to wipe her nose with. Then she noticed her friend, Patroclus, was around and she smiled at him. Patroclus was a reddish shepherd's dog; he had short, curved legs and a big head. Between his human eyes, topped by black eyebrows, there were deep wrinkles and the hairs around his muzzle had turned gray with old age and experience. As soon as she saw the smile of Miss Lizuca he came closer and started to lick her hand, which was still sweet with orange sherbet. "They beat me yesterday, too," Lizuca sighed; "they beat me again today; they beat me every day, you know." Patroclus understood her; he always did. Having cleaned her hand, he leaned back on his rear legs, stood on them and leaning forward, this time his front legs against the chest of the child, he licked the salty tears off her cheeks. "Patroclus," Lizuca told him, "father has not come back from Bucharest yet and I haven't seen my grandparents for a long while now. They don't even let us go and visit them any more. Since mother died, we have been doing worse and worse." Patroclus whined faintly and looked at her with his beautiful eyes that had golden rings around them. "We have, indeed," he agreed. "Shush! Listen!" Lizuca said. "Mother's laughing. Mother is always laughing. Our mother did not laugh like that…" The little girl was tense, listening attentively; then she suddenly retreated into her thoughts and after a while whispered gently to a vague shadow that had instantly appeared in front of her eyes: "Daddy, I heard mummy laughing with Mr. Micush in the sitting room…" Lady Emilia and Mrs. Neicu had ended their visit and were just coming out of the living room on their way out to the front gate. As she passed the child, the old woman placed her hand on her head: "What's the matter, girl?" she asked. "Have you been crying?" Lizuca pushed away the hand that caressed her and cast an unfriendly glance at the two ladies. She did not answer and shunned the two women, followed by her faithful friend. "You, wicked child!" Lady Emilia concluded, while Mrs. Neicu, who was still in the living room, was listening carefully to her limpid laughter. In complete agreement and casting meaningful glances at each other, they both walked out into the deserted street, in the oppressing heat of the summer. Behind them, in front of the house with lowered Persian blinds, Lizuca was musing, her eyes staring into space, her eyebrows knitted… She did not waver much. "Patroclus," she said, raising the index of her left hand to the height of her nose, "I'm not staying here any longer. I'm leaving for my grandparents' house." The dog looked at her fixedly. The little girl stole towards the porch behind the house, where the maid had dragged her before and pulled out a small coat and a red woolen beret. She stooped to pull up her sagging stockings. Then she fell back into her deep thoughts. Sitting on his tail, Patroclus carefully watched every gesture of the girl. Stimulated by his mistress, he sneaked into the kitchen stealthily, his ears hanging, and came back soon carrying a big slice of white bread in his mouth, that he held delicately by the edge. A hoarse voice was heard behind him: "Damn you, lousy cur!" A piece of wood, obviously aimed at the dog, hit the floor of the porch loudly and bounced against it several times. Patroclus turned his head and, realizing that nobody came after him brought his booty to his friend. "Patroclus, why are you carrying the bread in your mouth?" Lizuca asked, laughing. "Because I don't have pockets to put it in," the dog answered merrily with his eyes. "Then we will store it in my own pockets, to have it just in case," Miss Lizuca decided. And getting the bread from Patroclus, she placed it carefully into one of the pockets of her little red coat. "There is something else we need," she added, "and then we run away. We'll run away into the wide world, to see our grandparents!" Lizuca knew all the corners of the house. She immediately found the ashes she needed so badly and she got a pocketful of it; then she turned towards the street gate. "Flour or bran are no good," she said. "There was a story my grandma would tell me about children who had lost their way in the forest – and I remember quite clearly that the rabbits and foxes licked off the trail of flower and bran and those children could not find their way back. For the trail to stay untouched, you must sprinkle ashes. Let's go, Patroclus!" "Let's," the dog answered, and they both set off on a long and adventurous journey. VI: WHERE IT BECOMES PLAIN WHO THE GNOMES ARE The old men stopped and the bearded gnomes gently laid the little berth on the ground. The Fairy Queen jumped down nimbly and came forward. Then, without the slightest noise, they all sat down in front of the tree hollow. The Fairy Queen stood among the old men and the other four gray-bearded ones stood a step behind. They all raised their eyes at the same time and looked fixedly at the little girl, their eyes shining as jewels. The first one who spoke was the Fairy Queen, and her voice was like the chirping of a bird: "Miss Lizuca, you like chatting and listening to stories, don't you?" "Of course I do," the girl answered. "My mother used to say that our lives would be sad and dull without story telling…" "We knew you were going to come here," the Fairy Queen spoke again. "We asked one of the gnomes to stand guard over the edge of the forest, and when the reed welcomed you into her house, he came down to our caves and informed us about that. We often go out at night in the company of creatures that avoid man's presence. I am happy you came here this night. I sent a rabbit messenger to announce everybody we were going out into the moonlight this night. At night, this grove is an enchanted kingdom that ordinary people can never get to know." Taking a thin, white rod between her fingers, the Fairy Queen made a threatening sign towards the river. And all of a sudden, Lizuca saw a silver bridge with filigree sides spanning it and linking its dark banks, this bridge having replaced the old wooden one. And the murmur of the water was heard, like a sweet song, under the reeds. The Fairy Queen made another sign and the moonlight started to pour over the grove like rain. And the wild beasts of the grove started arriving on the paths or across the greens in the grove. You could see big hares that moved their ears and whiskers, red rats with cunning eyes and gophers waving their paws. The badger himself crossed the bridge ponderously. And walking slowly up the path to the animals' gathering, he stood on his hind legs, bowed and started to dance like a little bear. Miss Lizuca was amazed that such a morose and solitary creature as the badger could dance and be so happy. Unknown birds fluttered their feathered wings over the bushes. And you could see black roaches and big stag beetles as well as night butterflies passing in the eerie light. And the song of the unseen nightingale was heard again. "That's how we meet here and party," the Fairy Queen said. "Humans are asleep now and have no idea about it." The other gnomes burst into laughter. "We have long separated ourselves from the lives of the mortals," the old man said. "A long time ago we used to live in broad daylight, too; and when humans started to increase in numbers excessively and they invaded our territories, there was an elderly leader we had who wanted to live in peace with them. His name was Hand-Size and he was a miller. He had a tiny mill on the river Moldova and he ground the wheat of the humans. But mortals were stupid and mean and would not let such a matchless craftsman live by them. When they sat around the fire by the mill and drank a yellow drink from shining bottles they teased our poor Hand-Size, pulled him by the beard and mocked at him because he was so short. "One day our miller got really angry. He smashed the millstones with a hammer and lifted the barriers at the dam. And leaving his deserted mill behind, he mounted on his old hare and rode away, far from the humans, to some lonely places. And that is why the old man never liked people again. He would often come out of his retirement at dusk, show up at various old inns, at fords where rivers were crossed or camp fires where people were gathered and talked and he would play nasty and amazing tricks on human beings. The latter know countless tales about the gnome's exploits. And it was then, when he gave up milling, that the old man urged some of us to come here to the grove of Buciumeni." The old man fell silent for a moment. Miss Lizuca noticed that all the beasts around, the insects and the birds were listening to him, petrified. "And where is he now?" she asked, shyly. "Who? Hand-Size? He has long retired to the underworld and would not come back into this world. He is very old and thin now. And once in a while he meets Wood-Curber and Stone-Smasher and other giants of old. But he doesn't spend too much time with them, as these giants are a little soft in the head, pretty ugly, rude and greedy. Nevertheless, he has to spend his hours of loneliness with them. Their lives are coming to a close, anyway. After they helped Prince Charming kill the dragons and the ogres, there isn't much left to do for the giants, now, but to pass into the world of darkness. Hand-Size is also waiting for his end every a hundred years. Though our lives are long and we live for thousands of years and we could even live for ever, our time is up, too, I see. That is why the old man will die some day. And as people love stories less and less, we will soon close our eyes, too. And the caves will stay locked forever." Miss Lizuca felt her eyes filling with tears. "This cannot be," she said. "What am I going to do if you die?" All of a sudden, the old woman started to cry and sigh. "Just like grandma," Lizuca thought. The other gnomes smiled. "Don't worry, Lizuca, we won't abandon you. It was only last spring that the grove was really in danger. Thank God, it is safe now." "What happened last spring?" the child asked. "Don't you remember? Your father came to see your grandfather and asked him to sell the grove as he needed money." "Yes, indeed, I remember that," Lizuca said. "For a long while mother gave him such a hard time and insisted that he should sell the grove. But neither I, nor Patroclus would accept that. And neither would grandpa." "That's true; the old man would not sell the grove for anything in the world and he got angry and shouted that he would not let that happen as the grove belonged to the little girl." "And to us, too," the Fairy Queen added in her shrill voice. "Had the old yeoman been weak and had he given in," the gnome continued, "the springs would have run dry, the grass would have withered, the caves would have collapsed, and we should have been forced to wander in God knows what deserts!" "Here is much better than in other places, isn't it?" "Of course it is. This has been our land and we have become part of it since Hand-Size brought us here."1922 

by Mihail Sadoveanu (1880-1961)