The Morometes

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Heeler produced from a slit of his belt an unopened package of smokes, casually took place on a stump and began rolling a cigar. Moromete squatted down and rolled one from Heeler's pack, after which he stretched his arm to laggardly draw from underneath the self-same belt The Morning. The paper was not complete, but Heeler had taken heed to bring Moromete the political columns and debates."Are you listening, Moromete? Don't read any more, don't bother, I've read it ahead and am more on the ball, listen here… It's no bloody use he's got two brains!" They were talking about Iorga."This is what you think!" Moromete replied offended."Lo, Iocan, meeseems that Moromete is leaving us," Dumitru, son of Nae, remarked."Lo why, Dumitru?" Iocan inquired curiously."Well, Gheorghe Brătianu is not to Moromete's liking anymore," Dumitru of Nae retorted mirthfully. The other day, I halt on the footbridge, there's Moromete with The Movement in his hands: "Well, what do the papers say, Moromete?" "E's a thief … damn him," he says. "Who?" "That Gheorghe Brătianu." "Well, didn't you say he was clever?!" "E's clever, but e's a thief," Dumitru of Nae concluded very cheerfully."Good morning," said a new-comer in a gently submissive tone. An instant silence had just crept upon them and the new one made good use of it to make his voice heard by them all, as well. He was one of the backbenchers. "Poor Boţoghină, he's ill," he said. "I heard something he's meaning to sell from the lot.""If you play Judas on the party, I won't have you in my smithy any longer, Moromete," said Iocan hurling the hoof scrapes away from another horse. "I'll pound your head with the nailer, I will, you hear me?" Meanwhile, Marmoroshblank had also arrived from across, his faded railroad cap on, and someone else, as well – a fellow called Constantin Vasilescu (who went under the name of Din Vasilescu), who seated himself on the curb, next to the one who had tried to make himsef heard."Why lo, Iocan?!" Moromete inquired dumbfounded, without lifting his eyes from the paper. You fancy you won't become a mayor without my support?""How are things, Miai's?" Din Vasilescu asked the man he had seated himself next to. "Fine, o, they're fine!" Ion of Miai startled with pleasure, blushing even. "See, I came hereabouts to see what was new." Nobody ever asked him anything and he was not accustomed to being paid attention to and Din Vasilescu had asked the question as if he had no idea thereof. Ion of Miai drew nearer, with a gaze bashful, inquisitive and obliged."Lo, Din," he whispered, "have they agreed that Iocan become a mayor?" Din Vasilescu was mindful of all the others, but also of Ion of Miai."Bloody not, blockhead," Iocan said furiously. I can see, when elections are at the door, how you'll all vote for Aristide!""B…shit!" Heeler declaimed impassively. You think that if Gheorghe Brătianu wins the elections he will pick up a fight with the rest of the Brătianu's? They're still all liberals and Aristide will still stay mayor." After listening carefully to what Heeler had to say, Din Vasilescu whispered back to Ion Miai's whose question had been left hanging in the air. "He wishes, this Iocan, he became mayor, but Heeler's right! Got it?"Ion Miai's did not get it and gave Heeler an intent and futile look. Still, he was glad that, some way or another, he was taking part in the debates. As again a minute's silence came upon them, he did not let it slip away:"Heeler's right, he is!" he said. "Gheorghe Brătianu … Dinu Brătianu…""You're stupid!" Heeler unheedingly interrupted, without ever explaining why, and Ion Miai's became confuse and changed color. Din Vasilescu looked amused. He was scrutinizing Heeler with an uncanny glare in his eye. He wouldn't say anything, just sat there at the fringes of the glade, sandwitched in between Ion Miai's and Marmoroshblank, and would listen heedful and quiet. Nobody noticed him either, but he seemed glad of this. Shortly after, their threesome was joined by a fourth – a man with a clouded countenance. When he seated himself, Dinu Vasile startled and shrank to make place for him on the stump. The new-comer was a malign and unfriendly man people kind of dreaded. His name was Ţugurlan."Listen, Iocan, I'm right behind you," Moromete added, not taking his eyes off the paper as before. "-but will we see you and your sledge hammer around the smithy anymore? That is the question!""Come, Moromete, let Iocan be," someone voiced everybody's impatience. Come, get on with it!" In reality, Moromete was stalling things like a pupil who was not sure of himself; he first read silently."Listen here to what the King says," he said and in a moment they were completely silenced. "Listen to what His Majesty has to say," he added, unctuously rounding out "His Majesty." He then proceeded reading – abruptly, in a changed and unfamiliar voice, as if he himself had held a speech to the rest. There were, in fact, odd lows and pitches in his utterances, with pauses which fathomed many an unseen meaning or a resolute concluding which had to irrefutably win over the listener. The Grand Congress of AgricultureOnly as the Minister of Agriculture concluded his speech did the fanfare commence playing the solemn anthem; accompanied into the Congress Hall by His retinue, "the first agriculturist of the country," His Majesty Charles the Second, made His entrance. Welcomed to the tribune by the present officials, His Majesty the King delivered a speech.  The Address of His Majesty the KingDear Members of the Congress, I have learned that your congress is a gathering of experts, agronomists and engineers. I take the floor today as somebody drawn to the matters debated here and even admit a certain amount of experience therein. Probably I would have preferred for the present congress to be a gathering of "good managers," for, in my thinking, our specialists have yet to go a long way before they turn into good housekeepers. I am familiar therewith, for I have been an aficionado of land farming… Gentlemen Members of the Congress, it has become a slogan to allege that agriculture is the main occupation of the Romanians, I myself have declared it, but, regrettably: though it is the main manual occupation of the nation, it is not always her mental one…"  Moromete paused and looked at the paper transfixed. The silence still went on."Hah!" Dumitru Nae's unexpectedly burst out and his laughter purled away torpidly. "Hah, hah, look ye there how flabbergasted Moromete stands!""In other words," Moromete turned to Heeler, abandoning the paper for a wee while, "in other words, Heeler, your mental occupation is with other moonshine"! Heeler did not answer; he gave Moromete – the one who knew how to find such things in the paper – an envious look."I wonder if the first agriculturist of the country goes plowing?" set Dumitru Nae's the tone for the comments."But of course he does, why shouldn't he?" Iocan opinionated. When it's getting warm outside he spurts out with his plow in the Palace Court and plows, just like every man.""Do you reckon he's got land?" someone inquired."Definitely," Heeler proclaimed. "About one plot and a half, I'd say!…""I don't think so," somebody added in disbelief. He's bound to have more, for he has to support the little 'un, Michael, as well… He's got to feed him.""You're stupid!" Heeler reflected. "The little 'un has his plot from his mother!""Anyway!" Moromete cut in on these fleeting remarks and took the paper anew to hand.Spanish Warfront: The Tragedy of the City of Guernica For the second time in breach of the resolutions of the Commission for Non-Intervention, a squadron of German fighters has bombarded for six hours a defenseless Guernica. The fighters went down to a forty-meter altitude, raking the civilian population – who ran in terror across a city in flames – with machine-gun fire. Out of ten thousand locals eight thousand managed to save their lives, while the others were lost to the fire, under the debris, or gunned down by the pilots who had pursued them from a low altitude.  Moromete paused and again there was silence. Nearly all who had gathered had been serving in the war, but they were unfamiliar with aircrafts."How the blazes can one fire a machine-gun from a plane?" someone wondered. But nobody edified him. Ţugurlan looked at everybody in a lingering and hostile manner. He broke the silence and uttered in a husky voice:"This is wha' ought to be done down 'ere," he threatened and his Cimmerian, cleanly shaven face turned purple. Seated next to him, Din Vasilescu startled once again and shrank as if in an attempt to make even more space for him. Nobody answered Ţugurlan. Only later, Moromete added placatorily:"Lo, Ţugurlan, let live, let them folks be! Isn't the dying business enough as it is o'er there?!"Dumitru Nae's gave the cue anew, wondering in a loud tone:'Wha' on earth is happening up there in Spain; what is the Fritz' business there?!"
"What's his business?! Heeler answered. "He wants his bloody arse kicked off!""Does not fancy staying put for the world," Dumitru Nae's added. "Forgot what he was in for at Mărăşeşti.""Ay, you say this, Dumitru, as if all the Germans knew what we did to them at Mărăşeşti." Moromete observed."They'd better know it, damn them!""You're stupid!" Heeler mildly reflected. "The Fritz is like Ilie Udubeaşcă's," he explained. "A fellow like Voicu Câinaru would wring him to the ground and tan his hide. And then he'd pop up again." "Lo, Ilie," Câinaru's would say, "didn't I give you a good beat the other day?" "Wha'ever!" Udubeaşcă would say."And he'd beat him up again?""Ay!""Behold a diverging point of view!" Moromete remarked as he re-appropriated the paper. […] "That is to say…Moromete announced his readiness to read and there was silence again. "That is to say…"Important Debates in Parliament over Extending the State of Emergency and Press CensorshipAt 16.30 discussions in Parliament resumed in the matter of the bill on state emergency extension and press censorship. The Address of V. Madgearu, Esq.Your Excellency Mr. Chairman, dear colleagues Members of Parliament, I am highly honored to make the following announcement: for the third time, the Romanian Liberal Government has maintained the siege which has been maintained for three years and has solicited censorship; it invokes, in its behalf – for the sake of exculpation, the fact that circumstances leading to it still persist… There is no noted illustration in contemporary history whereby a state of parliamentary constitutional composition should have opted for a number of successive years for the solution of siege. All this, in spite of the fact that there have, over the last years, been attempts of coups d'etat, upheavals, or serious social convulsions in various states. The Liberal Government, by demanding Parliament the extension of the state of emergency in its fourth year, makes a deplorable exception… "Well I never!" Moromete said alarmed. "Who is this, Heeler?""He's clever!" Heeler replied. "this 'un hath not sweat his arse off in school for nothing.""I do not get this siege something at all!" Dumitru Nae's was not ashamed to admit."For you're stupid!" Heeler edified him."Damn it, Heeler!" protested Dumitru Nae's with his entire body, withdrawing his long legs. "He says there has been some siege going on, for four years! Where damnation is it, for I for one don't see it!" By not seeing through that much of a thing, Dumitru Nae's was implicitly raising a question of minor interest; thus, Moromete intended to carry on with his reading, but Iocan reckoned nobody was to stay unenlightened."What's the matter, Dumitru?!" he wondered. "Have you forgotten how they used to strike the alarm in them barracks? That's siege, well-nigh: the army or the police come out and shoot you!""Who damnation are they supposed to shoot at?!""Lo, Dumitru!" Moromete threatened angrily, offended even. "What do you mean by: who are they shooting? Say, somebody rebels the state and says: I don't fancy that! For instance, in the winter of '33 all the workers at Grivitza said: 'We don't want to work anymore!' 'Your business,' says the state, 'come out of the workshops and let's get other folks in.' 'Well, we don't fancy that either!' 'Ah, you don't want that either, you say?' And in came the army who pumped them full of lead. Didn't poor Niculaie Ţugurlan die there? Or have you forgotten? Lo, Stanley, didn't your brother die out there?" Moromete asked Ţugurlan, but this one did not answer and Moromete snatched his paper vexed and picked up where he had left…Naturally, we ask ourselves: which is the outcome of this governing – one of the lengthiest in post-war times – if the social and national chaos which has required the instituting of siege stays unchanged? … The question is whether the causes for this chaos need not to be sought in the upper spheres of political morals themselves? And, if so, what has the country done wrong that it must pay for the consequences to government maneuvers and complicity with the anarchical forces? … The Government has professed a strategy of diversion… it has, therefore, in actuality, encouraged terrorist extremism. There have been crimes, perpetrated with the certainty of impunity. Moromete paused to catch his breath. "Give 'im some water!" Heeler said."Ho, sir, this is no joking matter!" Moromete protested in a deep tone, as if he himself would have been interpellated on the benches of Parliament. "That is to say… There have been crimes, perpetrated with certainty!" he said again, removing the last word which looked redundant to him. The …articles … the branding articles!… "Look here, Iocan, he's talking about you!" Moromete casually remarked. The branding articles, destined to render the consternation of the public opinion evident in a country unaccustomed with such acts of terrorism, have been repealed; on the other hand, tolerance has been shown towards…"What color is he?" Iocan cut in."Peasant's Party!" Moromete replied and resumed: 'On the other hand, tolerance has been shown towards articles which glorified (here, Moromete uttered the word "glorified" in its religious acceptation) articles which glorified crime…" He paused, overwhelmed with stupefaction, and lowered his hat on the neck. "Lo, do ye hear what this 'un says here?!" he inquired and started turning the air blue, which in a way confused Ion Miai's ."Why does Moromete swear at us?!" he wondered."Not at us, lad, at those who are in Parliament," Din Vasilescu explained. Din Vasilescu was holding a large clump of soft, yellow clay in his hands, which he playfully tempered. Nobody wondered what he was doing, they knew his custom to sit, at times, and mould all sorts of figures from mud he then would give out to the children… In the trials marked by political assassination the investigation of the backdoor authors has being omitted, a fact which has constituted a further encouragement for new assaults. Under these conditions, the call for extending emergency measures on behalf of a government, which has benefited them for nearly four years, constitutes an act of defiance and a farce – a sad farce which may bear immeasurable consequences to the nation… Confident that I meet the approbation of the entire public opinion, I demand that the Government resign immediately…"Hah! The Government's falling!" Ion Miai's cried out, elated for he had finally understood something by himself of what was being read. Nobody had anything to add and Moromete waited for a few moments, before he went on. The debates were imminent."Now, let's see what Government's got to say to that!" Iocan muttered anxiously."From Mr. Madgearu's allocution one could understand that Romania is sitting on a hotbed and that this would be entirely the doing of the Liberal Party," Moromete responded in reading the rejoinder of the Minister of Justice. I would not want to be forced to refresh the memory of the opposition regarding the events in February '33. It would otherwise become clear that the National Peasant Party is at this very moment reading out its own accusation (interpolations and rumor in the benches of the opposing party (furious vociferation). "Well I never… I never," Moromete murmured astounded."Damn them, they're sharp," Dumitru Nae's shouted in admiration. The storm of clamors and protests went on with the same virulence. Moromete would read out with long pauses in order to try to comprehend. The parliamentary opposition faction were protesting against censorship, yet they claimed it be instituted for their adversaries. Government were accused of having brought about the siege, yet, at the same time, they were violently attacked for having granted a Parisian communist journalist to witness the trial of several communists. In response, the Ministry of Justice indulged in noxious attacks. "What would you have the Government do in the case of the communist journalist?" the state under-secretary inquired. "Answer in all your loyalty." " "We would have summoned him to leave the country within five or ten hours." "This is exactly what has been done!" the under-secretary triumphantly replied. "I am at the moment under the impression that your propensity towards such theories has rendered you in the sad posture of being wiped off your feet, as it were." The anti-Semitic and pro-fascist groups protested against the Government ban of uniforms and threatened they would come into the very Parliament in blue and green shirts. The minister, who knew full well, as Parliament did, that it was not the uniforms, but the groups themselves that should be banned, threatened bluntly that the Government majority would pass the law and those who would break it would "people the prisons." The "Christian" groups took the hint and backed off, by declaring that "we, who equally love our country…""Cut it out, it's getting flaggy!" Heeler interrupted "See, you fool," he then added triumphantly. "Fancied they ain't got nothing better to do up there in Parliament than to chat about yer large taxes!""Nay, it couldn't be, for the matter wasn't on the agenda," Moromete replied. "Beside that, didn't you hear Iorga was not attending?""Anyway, I see that Government went scot-free on this one!" Iocan ascertained a bit confused."Ay, but the opposition made a good impression as well, when Madgearu spoke in the beginning," Heeler noted."Goodie!" Dumitru Nae's said, his mouth wide open, and stretched his long feet as far out as he could. "Government's going down! The Peasant Party is back, the likes of Crâşmac! […] Lo, Iocan, if you don't fancy Crâşmac to win again, gang up with the Peasant Party! I'll vote for you, I will!" he declared."This is an impossibility, sir, I protest!" Moromete contended for his political mate. "I protest!" he bellowed out in the voice he had read out the debates, but much louder. He dispensed of the paper in an angry gesture, rose to his feet and, sawing the air over everybody's heads, protested once more against the march of the Peasant Party. Heeler contended as a matter of principle, telling him to quit the ado, that the Peasant Party had passed the law of conversion. Moromete rejoined by calling him a liar, and telling him that it was the liberals who had passed it. Then Dumitru Nae's cut in as well, all started racketing and, for several instants, in the ensuing vociferous havoc, nobody seemed to understand anything anymore. 1955

by Marin Preda (1922-1980)