The Tale Of Ionica The Fool

In a village, the story goes, there once lived a lad who had neither father, nor mother, nor any other kin; so obscure was his lineage, in fact, that for all we know, he may well have dropped there from the sky. As the boy was meek, long suffering and slow to speak, the men and women of that village took to calling him "Ionica the fool," and the name stuck. You do know the old saying according to which "the fool's ass is the devil's den."That village was full of the offspring of wealthy farmers, lads vying with one another for substance and status – the kind that wear their cloaks furled backwards and cock their fur caps at a rakish angle. They wouldn't as much as give Ionica the time of day, for his was a miserable lot, poor lad, and he had to bear his cross all alone. Whether at the public house, or at the village dance, or at weddings, he would sit on his own to one side, like a mendicant stranger, keeping mum and feasting on the others' boisterous palaver, and whenever he approved of whatever they happened to be doing, he would just nod his tacit agreement, and thought to himself "it is indeed good." That was Ionica's standard phrase. And if he happened to be vexed with their doings, all he did was groan within himself and hold his peace, as befits strangers whom everyone ignores.I have already told you there was abundance of lads in that village. It goes without saying that where lads abound, lasses do much more abound: both young ones and old ones, fair ones and ugly ones, rich ones and poor ones, hard-working ones and lazy ones – it takes all kinds, as they say, and it's been that way since the world began.As for the lasses, bless their souls, they were counting the days to the hour of their marriage as is the lasses wont, very much like porkers looking forward to the day they're appointed for slaughter… As the old saying goes: "This coming Thursday, goat, this coming Thursday; you'll be getting it there (pointing at the goat's throat), and I'll be getting it here (pointing at his own belly…)." And as you're apt to know, "every straw casts its shadow, and there's a matching patch for every sack." And with the tiniest bit of luck thrown in for good measure, forsooth it is indeed good, as Ionica was wont to say.But to resume. Amongst all the lads in that village and its purlieus, there was one certain lad of repute, Vasile a Hargaoae, who tied the knot and took to wife Catrina, the daughter of another man of repute – Father Crackling, the priest; she was the comeliest and wittiest of all the girls in the village and its purlieus.Now you seem all intent on asking how Father Crackling had come to be called that. Just bear with me for a while, and you will surely find out, don't you worry. As it happens, the cantor of the village church once chanced upon the priest as he was munching on a sheet of crackling at the height of Lent, and right behind the holy altar, too. And as he bore a grudge against the priest on account of having once been cheated by the same out of his fair share of dedicated bread cakes, the cantor wasted no time in spreading the word. And God forbid that people get wind of the flimsiest bit of gossip, for they're quick to pin a vicious nickname on you, just as they pinned the crackling on the priest. Now aren't people a contrary lot? At the drop of a hat, they seem only too ready to do the devil's bidding.But let us now pick the thread of our story from where we've left it.The wedding left all the other lads jaundiced and bitter. To ease the burden of their chagrined hearts, they flocked to the public house, and went on a whole week's drinking bout; little did they care that they had cattle to feed and to water, horses to groom, and all the work a man of substance is supposed to attend to, provided the said man of substance is so inclined.Ionica the fool, having no particular chore to get on with, traipsed in their wake, entered the public house, called for a measure of schnapps, fired his pipe, and huddled in a nook, as the poor, forlorn soul that he was. The other lads, as soon as the liquor got to their heads, started pouring out their hearts to one another, the way man is wont to, bless his soul, whenever he's in his cups.Said one: "A sorry lot are we, and that's for sure, to allow such a gem of a lass to give us the slip. Such a supple frame, such inviting breasts, such black and sparkling eyes, such beautifully arching eye-brows – I doubt we'll ever see the like of them… Vasile, the cunning bugger, did somehow prevail against all of us, and left us empty-handed…" Another one went on to say: "I'd willingly give a yoke of oxen, of the very best, if only she let me give her just the one kiss, specialty of the house, you know…"Yet another one echoed: "I, for one, would willingly give the shirt off my back, if only she let me have a go at those breasts of her…" "I grant you that," chipped in another lad, "I can't imagine a priest saying nay to such a treat, but as for me, Your Prickness, I would willingly sell myself into slavery to the Turk if only she let me lie at that inviting breast of hers, as Talpan is wont to say." "Now wouldn't that be something," replied a bachelor, too long in the tooth to be bothered with the urgency of such matters. "Yet you're going too far now, don't you think? If you were itching for her like you say, you should have done something about it while she was a maid in her father's house, rather than stand aside like a sissy. Now all you can do is get hold of a straw to pick your teeth with, and wash down the aftertaste with a mouthful of wine. You've come to your senses three days after the feast. As it is, she's well taken care of at the moment, so all this talking of yours is of no avail."Ionica the fool, as he kept to one side listening to them, could no longer hold his peace. He quickly rose from his place overcoming his fear and all, and made straight for the lads, saying: "C'mon, lads, you call me a fool, you do, but the way I see it, you are more foolish by far. You lift up the horn all in vain, and your spite does no good whatsoever… Now, what would you give me if I were to have it off with Catrina in the presence of her own husband, this very night if you so wish?"Thereupon all the lads, rabid as they were with thwarted desire, jumped to their feet and converged upon Ionica like eagles upon the prey, saying: "What was that you just said, you beggarly bugger? If you've been drinking schnapps, you shouldn't have drunken your senses too.""Do let's get hold of him," urged one of them, "that'll teach him to talk through his hat in the future." "Nay, let him be," said another, "what if the man knows what he's talking about? Let's first see if he can live up to his bragging, and afterwards we'll reward him accordingly… There, Ionica, tell us what you want us to give you if you do that thing you've been boasting about." "A nine-lei piece is all I ask, and a pail of old wine." "Here's the nine-lei piece," said one of the lads. "The pail of wine we'll be drinking together at the end. Let's see the deed first.""So be it, then," Ionica agreed. "Now let some of your number come with me and keep watch behind Vasile's house, peeping through the back window to see for yourselves the things I am going to do in there. But be still, I'm telling you… Don't go stamping your feet, or raising a racket to make the man in any way suspicious, for if you do, I wash my hands of what's going to happen. The dogs do know me, but you ought to have some bread soaked in schnapps on you, to lure them away while I'm dipping my wick…" These things being said, they upped and went, three or four fellows following Ionica, and after a while they reached Vasile's house in the dead of night. They pushed the gate open ever so quietly, and entered the yard undetected by the dogs, for as it happened, it was their mating season too, and they had all spread out through the village for that purpose. Which was all for the better.The four lads took their post behind the house while Ionica went straight to the door and started banging on it and shoving as he cried: "Baica Vasile, baica Vasile, are you at home?"Catrina jumped from her sleep: "Badica, badica! Get up, do, for there's someone knocking on the door." Vasile shot out of bed, rushed to the porch door, and snapped: "Who's there?""It's me, baica Vasile.""Me, who?""Me, Ionica the fool.""And who else could there be but such a one as you, to startle people out of their sleep at this hour. What brings you here in the dead of night, Ionica?" Vasile enquired with a yawn."Pray, baica Vasile, open the door, and I'll tell you the whole matter; do help me, I pray, for my only hope is in you…" On hearing that, Vasile let Ionica in, closed the door behind him, pushed the latchet in place, and they entered the bedroom together, groping for the door jambs and stumbling against the threshold in the dark."So what's this all about, Ionica?" Vasile asked again, as he lit up the oil lamp. "Has the Turk invaded, or what? Wherefore do you go about at such a time as this, dragging people out of their sleep?" "My, baica Vasile, woe is me – that's even worse than the Turk. The people in the village have got it into their heads, seeing I'm a stranger and have nobody in the world, to have me pressed into the army. The principal, the captain of the guard, and some other villains with them, are after me, and they have well nigh laid hands on me. But I, having perceived what they were scheming, broke out of the midst of them, as from the midst of a pack of rabid dogs, stole away the best I could, then took to my heels and ran all the way here, to you. I'll be dead before I allow them to drag me away from your house.""Come, come, Ionica, play the man, don't be such a wimp, for there's still a government that has a word to say in this land of ours. My father-in-law is the priest of our village, the principal is my godfather, my grandfather's captain of the guard, and it's my old man himself who's prefect here, not the devil. I should be able, don't you think, to do something on the sly so as to get you out of trouble. But next summer, when I have work to do, forget not the good that I've done unto you.""How else, baica Vasile, rest assured. Still, I can't stop wondering what on earth these people have got against me, to give me such a hard time as this – as if I'd eaten up their heads or something…" "That'll do, Ionica, trouble yourself no more with such matters. You're in my house now, so you don't have to worry anymore. Just see them pistols, how nicely they hang from their peg, all loaded and ready. Yet, if you'll pardon my saying so, you've been asking for it in a way, as you ramble all over the village like a good for nothing, with no intention whatsoever to settle down. All you need to do is get married, and you'll no longer have to live in awe of the army. The press gang will just leave you alone. Say, why don't we get you spliced fast and quick? I happen to know just the right girl for you – Ioana Todosiicai, who lives up the hill. My father-in-law is her godfather, and me and my wife could be your witnesses as you tie the knot in this very house. What d'you say to that, Catrina? Don't you think that's something? An' we'll be dancing at the wedding fit to shake off all the fleas we've caught this summer.""Indeed?! The wedding's all set, bride has to agree, yet," Catrina retorted with a hiccup."So why shouldn't she agree, then?" countered Vasile. "Or is she going to keep that conch of hers for a soup tureen?""Such wisdom you ought to have kept to yourself," Catrina pouted. "You men may be prattling till you froth at the mouth, yet girls are not so, as I happen to know for a fact." "Yea, surely, you will side with each other no matter what," Vasile replied. "So what's wrong with Ionica, then? Come to think of it, the lad's too good for her… Who is this Ioana, after all? Or is she waiting to be wooed by Prick Charming himself?""You do worry about her welfare, I see, may you eat her thing for starters – and may Ionica pardon my manner of speaking."Ionica had forsooth found a good advocate in Vasile, but in Catrina he had a better one by far: for as a poor stranger of an orphan he had served long years both with Vasile's father, and with Catrina's. It was with Catrina together that he'd combed the wool for spinning; with Catrina that he'd taken the hemp out of the melting vat. As the old song goes: Said the lass I'll get my shareWhen the hemp's ripe over there.While it melts I'll get my prizeFrom betwixt her very thighs. It was with Catrina that Ionica had been spinning yarns, and helped her as she was bending over the loom, with Catrina on the warp, with Catrina on the weft, with Catrina in the woods picking berries, with Catrina everywhere… Well, to cut a long story short, Catrina knew Ionica's workings inside out and so did Ionica, bless his soul, know Catrina's, and that from the days she was a maid at her father's house. As it were, she'd come to taste the forbidden fruit, in jest, so to say, whenever the occasion arose: to put it plainly, Ionica had had his way with Catrina. That turned out all for the best as far as Vasile was concerned, for he was thus spared the labors of having to break the lass in himself."Now then, Ionica, shall I get down to business on your behalf? Have you made up your mind to get married?""Well now, baica Vasile, it is but a light matter for you to be talking this way. But what am I, poor me, supposed to do with the wife?""Well, I never… Ionica, of a truth you are slow-witted, my boy. You mean to say you've no idea what a man is supposed to do with the woman he marries? Look and learn, then: be no fool, go for the wool, the way I'm doing with Catrina." And he grabbed her from that very part."Mercy me, badica, mercy! A right one you are, doing such foolishness and talking idly in the presence of strangers. And in our own house, too.""Come off it, Catrina, that's no time for airs and graces – Ionica's one of ours, isn't he now?""Well, Ionica, have you come to your senses? If you still don't know what to do with your wife when you marry, then let me have a go at her, you fool, for I'll gladly lend you a hand, free of charge…""You can, indeed, talk lightly about the whole matter, baica, for you've had a father and a mother to teach you, but who was there to teach me, seeing that I've been orphaned of both parents from a babe?""I am now persuaded, Ionica, people are right, after all, to call you a fool. But never mind that now. What would you give me if I were to teach you myself?""Yea, rather what wouldn't I give you, baica, were I not so poor… A nine-lei piece is all that I've got.""It'll do, Ionica, if that's all the money you've got. Lemme have it, then, m'lad, and I'm going to teach you the entire science that keeps the household going, for without a prick,the household is sick. Ionica dutifully took out the nine-lei piece and shoved it into Vasile's hand. Vasile took it with glee, spat at it for good luck, and said: "May God add His blessings with it!" After storing it in his purse, he turned to Catrina:"Catrina, m'lass, go to, let's have you lying you-know-how, skirts up an' all that, so that this fool may see how we do business, and learn to do it himself…""For crying out loud!" Catrina whimpered, covering her face in shame. "I've never heard the like of it. Or are my ears deceiving me, husband? You don't mean to have sport with me in the presence of strangers, do you? Come to your senses, you churl!""That's enough of your lip, now, Catrina. Here's the nine-lei piece for you to buy yourself a string of beads and earrings." And he tumbled her like a hurricane upon the bed, pulled up her skirts all the way, and said: "Come closer, Ionica, and keep your eyes peeled. Peradventure you'll learn something from it…" And in-out, in-out he went, as if bent on bringing the whole place down…Catrina, seeing what a nincompoop her husband was, closed her eyes pussy-fashion, and pretended not to be there… Ionica the fool, eyes bulging out of his head, just stood there like a pillar of stone, gaping at the proceedings and slavering copiously, akin to a rabid dog."There, Ionica…" panted Vasile as soon as he was done, tongue lolling out of his mouth with the exertion. "Have you finally got it into your thick head what you're supposed to do with the woman you marry?" "Nah, baica… With all due respect, I'd be damned if I know what you've been doing over there.""You, wretch! You're as thick as two planks, and no doubt about it. How can that gourd you carry on your shoulders fail to grasp such a simple trick as that, after the pains I've taken to show you? You're surely conceived in times of fasting, or the devil knows what, for how else could such a nasty bit of work as yourself come into the world – not a trace of discernment, you lout! See for yourself, Catrina – had you been plagued with such a man like this one, you would have had a hard time, I reckon, when in the mood for a tumble…"On hearing such words, Catrina was acting all haughty and feigned anger as she spoke with her face still buried in her hands:"You ought to be ashamed of yourself, you lunatic! You have disgraced me before this Ionica, a plague upon him, for it's all his fault that he's troubled our sleep with that press gang of his, accursed scoundrel…" "For mercy's sake, Catrina, what do you think you're at, cursing an innocent man like that? Where was he to have gone, poor soul, if he has no one in the world? Now how about it, Ionica? Don't you at least have an inkling of what you're supposed to be doing with your Ioana when it comes to it?""I'd be damned if I do, baica, like I've already told you.""You're a stupid brute and that's that, to tell you the truth. If they were to press you into the army, I don't know for the life of me how you'd manage, feeble-minded as you are, an' all that.""They'd put him in charge of boiling the porridge," Catrina chipped in, head still tucked under the cover, "for, the way I see it, there's not much else he be good for." "Now stop taunting him, woman, and let the poor boy be. Can't you see how downcast he is? You'd better give me an idea what to do about him." "What to do, you say? Do whatever you know, for it was you who brought this trouble upon us." "So be it, then. What I'm going to do is ask you to sit for another spell on the edge of the bed, and lift your legs up shoulder-high, so that this here dullard can take a better look at how we go about it. For so incensed am I against him, that I can hardly keep myself from tearing him to pieces. I've never seen the like of this scab since the day I was born." "Forbear, baica Vasile," Ionica pleaded, "and no longer trouble lelica Catrina, for it has finally dawned upon me, and I know it for a fact, that try as I may, I will never get the hang of it till the end of the world." "Nay, Ionica, God forbid that I let you go out of my house before you get the knack of it. And this very night, too. For I have a mind to have you finally tie the knot, and that with our blessing. There, Catrina, come and sit here, do, the way you know best; and quit playing bashful, for Ionica is one of ours, haven't I told you, and before you know it, he and his Ioana will be doing exactly the same thing we're doing." Catrina would none of it, though, and was prone to squirm. Yet, as the Gypsy proverb goes, "You may have squirmed with whoever you've been squirming – but with Ivan there's no squirming." In like manner, the raging Vasile, expecting no further invitation, grabbed his Catrina without as much as by your leave, planted her neatly on the edge of the bed, legs lifted up shoulder-high, and called unto Ionica to pay attention and commit it all to memory, or else be prepared for the worst. As soon as he was done, Vasile once again asked: "Let's hear you, Ionica, can you in all honesty say you didn't get it this time?" "Mercy, baica, were I not too terrified to tell you the truth, I'd answer in all honesty that I'm not any wiser as to what I was supposed to learn." "Confound you, then, you good-for-nothing clot. You're a dunce if ever I saw one. I'm itching to wring that neck of yours, you muddle-headed nitwit!" "Hey, Catrina! Come, let this blockhead have a go at you, peradventure it will open his eyes…" "Woe is me, for I'm undone! What manner of communication is coming out of your mouth, O husband mine? Are you beside yourself, or just pretending? How on earth did it cross your mind I would do such a thing. Or do you think I've been eating mandrake? Mercy! You should be ashamed of yourself! What manner of a woman do you take me for?" "Come off it, Catrina, stop making such a fuss. What difference does it make – where the bull is grazing, the calf can also find pasture. After all, the dolt's not going to eat it off you, fuck him!" And without further ado, he tumbled Catrina onto the bed with one hand, while with the other he grabbed Ionica's shirt tails, and hauled him on top of her by force. It was all Ionica the fool needed. Afterwards it didn't take him long to get going hammer and tongs, as the old song has it: That's his trick – a hefty stick,Twelve-inch long and three-inch thick,Rooted stiff and polished slick.Goes in fastWith just one thrust,As if greased against the rust… And he promptly started making inroads into Catrina against the grain, sort of, the way he'd been accustomed to from days bygone… from Father Crackling's house… from the maize fields and from the clearings of yore… when they used to go cutting stalks of hemlock and elder, and hollowed them out with a ramrod…In the beginning Catrina kept herself in check, it appeared, since she felt Vasile's eyes upon her. Halfway through, though, she forsook all shame and decorum and started responding for all she was worth, as the old saying goes: Hold on, now, don't try no trick,For you can't escape my prick.Why would I escape it, duck,When I'm dying for a fuck? "Whoa, badica, he's reached to the very pit of me stomick!" Catrina suddenly groaned, arching herself backwards all the way, till her navel almost touched the ceiling, and then sank in a swoon… "That is a true saying indeed," Vasile said, "the fool drives a hard bargain – as long as he doesn't know how, he pleads ignorance, but as soon as he's got the hang of it, he charges double… Easy, you nincompoop, or you'll tear my wife open… Come, roll off her now, you slug.""Nay, but suffer him to go on for a spell, badica, trouble him not at such a time like this, for he seems to be rubbing butter into my gizzards," Catrina moaned, and gasped for breath as if she'd been sipping boiling-hot broth…One of the lads watching through the back window, touched to the very bottom of his heart, started singing softly: In-out, in-out, all the way, till she pays up the nine lei.Crackling's damsel, bless her soul,Got it deeper than her hole!In-out, in-out, all the way, till she pays up the nine lei.I thank God for evermoreT'was not me who pricked her sore.In-out, in-out, all the way, till she pays up the nine lei.T'was Ionica, silly sod,For he's got a big, big rod!In-out, once more, all the way, till she pays up the nine lei… The other lads, seeing Ionica pulling himself up from Catrina, and perceiving that Vasile was such a nitwit, who wouldn't even say a word of rebuke to Ionica, clasped their heads in their hands, moved to envy. Presently, they started stamping their feet on purpose and raising a dust so as to expose Ionica. Ionica was quick to understand their plan, and suddenly cried out:"Don't leave me now, baica Vasile! Hark! The fiendish press gang have followed me here, and they're going to press me into service… Woe is me, what am I to do?" "Fear not, Ionica, m'lad. Take heart, you coward, for you're with me!" Vasile said. And grabbing the two pistols, he promptly fired two or three rounds straight through the window, blowing out the oil lamp on the ledge, and causing Catrina's heart to leap out of her chest with fright.The lads took to their heels without delay, and as they were running for their lives, they scattered like partridge fledglings. When they regrouped at a safe distance, they once again started singing: "In-out, in-out al the way…" and yelling with glee over Ionica's exploit with Catrina as they ran all the way to the public house, to bring the news of what they had witnessed to the others. Vasile, as soon as he made sure there was no one left outside, sent Ionica on his way, charging him to go straight to Todosiica that lived up the hill, on the errand they had agreed upon.Ionica, nonetheless, who cared little for Todosiica, and even less for her daughter Ioana, went straight to the public house to join the other lads for the drinking of the wager, and rub their noses into their own wickedness, pride and vanity.And from that day on, the lads would no longer act haughty in front of Ionica, or take him for a fool as before. Not many days hence, Vasile's fame spread all over the place, and people everywhere would laugh their asses off at the fellow. So he had no choice but leave the village and lose himself into the wide world with his wife in tow, to escape the fierce gossip of those busybodies.And thus, good people and most noble listeners, I have found it meet that rather than utter profanity, I ought to entertain you with an edifying story such as this one… And may whoever speaks like this, or worse, be blessed with many gold coins in his purse!And those who deem such utterances fit, may peace and wealth their houses never quit! Written by John Trackland, Jassy, 22 October 1876, and dedicated to the golden youth grown old in evil days as their Society is celebrating its thirteenth year – the devil's own number.

by Ion Creangă (1838-1889)