The Uprising

excerpts Titu Herdelea found out about the divorce from Nadina during their trip by train. He wouldn't believe it. It was only ten days later that Grigore's words confirmed it for him. And then he exclaimed in a sad tone of voice:"She was, nonetheless, such a nice woman!""Too nice!" smiled Grigore.However, irrespective of how fond he was of Grigore Iuga, and how much he admired Nadina, young Herdelea had no time to deal with their problems. He often met Grigore, he visited him and they had lunch together sometimes. Some other times he would see Nadina at a show or at Gogu Ionescu's, when he was invited to supper. But he was more and more engrossed in his work as a journalist. Under the pretext of intensifying political events, Roshu assigned him more and more tasks. In order to boost the sales of The Flag, the ambitious secretary of the editorial office wanted to have it enriched with various new columns and, as there were no other obedient redactors, he would overwork Herdelea, who did not protest in any way. This is how he came to deal with a curiosity column, one with political-mundane echoes, and with the theatrical review, the only one which pleased him, because he was fond of theatre and now he could go there more often, and for free. But as soon as he had come back from Amara, he had a surprise from Mrs. Alexandrescu, his talkative, loving landlady. As she kept asking him about his holiday in the countryside and paying partial attention to his answers, which offended him a little, she abruptly said to him, in an excited voice:"I want you to know that while you were gone, Tantza came by and kept talking about you. What a girl, Mr. Titu! You have no idea… her beauty, intelligence and obeisance are equaled only by my Mimishor's."And then, two minutes after she had made him talk again about his holiday, she interrupted the young man, threatening him coquettishly with the forefinger and giving him a look of complicity: "How shrewd! Nice choice, you have good taste in women! Girls like Tantzica are not to be found everywhere – beautiful, educated, and of a good family. Well! I must say that you, yourself, are an eligible bachelor, gainfully employed, with a promising future. You two would make a great couple, God willing!"For half an hour, Titu had to listen to the woman's explanations, combinations, plans and advice, which made his head spin. He got scared. He loved Tantza without even thinking of getting married since, given his situation, this idea seemed at least ridiculous. Indeed, Tantza came almost every afternoon at Mrs. Alexandrescu's and Herdelea felt more and more embarrassed. The only escape seemed to move out, so that his trace be lost. But one day, when he was at Mrs. Alexandrescu's and was chatting with Tantza, and the latter's pretty green eyes were begging the landlady to leave them alone, someone knocked timidly on the door and Marioara entered, without waiting for an answer. "I apologize," she said a little frightened at the sight of Tantza, but not embarrassed by Mrs. Alexandrescu's presence. "I came for the lesson and the door was locked and…" "The key is in the locker, dear Marioara!" startled Titu, blushing and stepping towards her. "Really? I didn't notice. Then I am going in the other room. I am sorry!" said the girl, withdrawing with a nod and a little smile to Herdelea. As soon as Marioara closed the door, Tantza stood up, all pale, and took her coat, with intent to leave. In vain did Mrs. Alexandrescu try to provide extensive explanations. Tantza declared she felt cheated on. Why hadn't he told her anything about this girl who entered his room as if it were hers? She cried, then she calmed down a little, but she wouldn't stay. She left as sad as a martyr."See what you have done?" Mrs. Alexandrescu reproached him afterwards. 'I was expecting you to get into trouble because of these lessons of yours. What are you going to do now? You have to be considerate, because Tantza is very sensitive and her heart can be easily broken!" Another scene was awaiting for him in the another room, but Marioara thawed out more easily. Nevertheless, in the evening, when he thought back about his day, he was somewhat content. An unpredictable incident had provided him with a solution. Tantza had got mad, which had brought the adventure to an end. The next day Tantza didn't show up. Nor the day after that. Nor the day after that. It was over. It was Saturday, at the beginning of February. Titu Herdelea had to write an important article for The Flag. Deliceanu himself had put forth the guidelines, hence he wanted to come up with something outstanding, so that the director finally be persuaded that he had a worthy collaborator. That is why he was glad when Mrs. Alexandrescu told him that they were going with Jean to visit the latter's parents, and that they would be late so, if he was to go out, he should lock up carefully and hide the key. He got undressed. He put on an old dressing gown and some cheap slippers, he prepared himself several cigarettes and started working. It was quite warm in the small room. The fire burnt in the stove. He wrote several pages so easily as if somebody had dictated the words to him. His thoughts were like beads on a string. His head was surrounded by the veil of tobacco smoke, which resembled a little cloud of cotton-wool, and on the floor the stubs he had randomly thrown down marked the pauses of his journalistic inspiration. Around five, when dusk was falling, all he needed was only a vibrant ending to round up the story. In order to get inspired, he read again the entire article, muttering aloud some of the sentences that sounded more sonorous and more impressive. "Nice work!" he said at the end. "Perfect! If this doesn't blow their mind…" But the vibrant ending tarried. While searching for it in the abyss of his brain, he stood up, took the lamp from the night stand, and put it to the table to turn on the light. He carefully took out the lamp shade, still engrossed in his thoughts. As he was looking for the box of matches, he seemed to hear a timid knock on the door. Hardly had he had the time to turn around when the door opened. "Tantza!" he exclaimed, so surprised that he was instantly ashamed of his intonation. Tantza stood near the door, gazing at him with wide eyes, as if she had mistakenly entered an unknown house. "Forgive me, Tantzica!" he went on, less confused. "I apologize for being dressed like that! I was working, I wanted to turn on the light and…" As he was drawing near her, she stopped him with an instinctual gesture and after a few seconds, she whispered: "Were you waiting for somebody?" When the young man wanted to answer, he was put off by another inquisitive, nervous smile: "Not even for me?" He shook his head. "And yet, here I am!" she muttered, with a strange look. All wrapped up in a winter coat, with fox fur around her neck, her head covered by a velvet cap, the girl seemed to fill the dusky room with a blurring light. "You have brought joy in this dull room…" Titu Herdelea had mixed a romance-like tremble in his words, somehow theatrical and fake, although his heart was truly sincere. Tantza heard only the voice of the heart and came closer, with grateful, extended arms: "I will not disturb you… I will content myself with watching you writing, with being here with you…" "Anyway…" Titu's voice had changed. Her presence enthralled him. He broke off. He took her hands in his and put them to his heart. Then, without other words, he took off her coat and she herself took off her cap. The dark crept furtively into the house. The things became rounder, lost their contour, blurred. Only the house that overlooked the yard remained a whitish hue and in its frame the sparkling snowflakes jostled and raced as if a swarm of white butterflies were looking for a shelter against the cold and the dark. "Where shall we sit?" asked Titu, putting his arm around her waist. "You see, here, at my place, there's not enough room to sit together, one next to each other…" Tantza was wearing a pure smile of happiness. Now everything was exhilarating for her. She simply sat on the edge of the bed, watching Titu as he put some fagots in the stove, as he locked the door… it was only when he took her head in his hands and kissed her on the lips harder than other times, that she startled and whispered reluctantly: "Why have you locked the door?" But the question hovered in the air filled with tobacco smoke. Titu had slipped to her feet and had hidden his cheeks in her lap, putting his hands around her hips and caressing them. She felt sad because he hadn't answered and started to thread her fingers through his hair. She watched the playful snowflakes absent-mindedly, all she could think of was the locked door and that she had to leave at once. At the same time, her lips whispered tightly: "Dear Titu, please, behave yourself. Do you promise? Promise me!" He stood up abruptly, as if awoken from a dream and said in a stern voice: "I swear…! I swear!" He sat down near her, on the edge of the bed. Now, the oath seemed exaggerated to both of them. It was as if the word had torn the magic around them. As an excuse and as an urge, Tantza felt obliged to explain herself. She had no intention of dropping by that day. Why should she, if he didn't love her, didn't love her madly. But when she saw Lucretzia and Jenica paying them a visit, she imagined they would stay up late and that he must have been left alone, and then she told herself that he didn't realize how much she loved him and that is why he didn't treasure her love… why should she listen to the same old gossip of the ladies when she had so many things to say to him? And since she had to go and see a friend, she went out quickly and… She didn't look Titu in the eye. The young man had listened to her words without understanding them and had leaned against her, hearing her heartbeats more and more clearly, feeling her body startling from time to time. Then, all of a sudden, Tantza broke off as if seized by a great fear and stood up, muttering: "Now I have to go… leave me alone, please, dear Titu! Where have I put my coat?" Titu Herdelea got scared. He felt a pain only at the thought of being alone again, with his unfinished article, looking for his vibrant sentence. Now, everything that was not Tantza seemed unimportant. Nothing in the world could match the charm she had brought in the smoky little room. In that moment, the whole meaning and the entire wisdom of the world lay for him in the warm, green depth of her eyes, in the gentle, murmuring voice with its mysterious words, in the hot body with its frightened starts. Desperate as he was that he could lose her, he stood in her way, hugged her, let his gaze rest into hers and murmured in a husky voice: "You can't just go…"He was ashamed of what he had said, but the girl answered with a surprised little smile which echoed his words. His hands got tangled in the thin, white blouse, which had some fasteners in front. With the same, surprised little smile, Tantza helped him undo them, though, instinctively, she reproached him gently: "Leave the blouse, Titu… no, no, please, I want to go…" Titu was mumbling something in a dry voice, without knowing exactly what. Their words united in a whisper of hidden joy. Then Tantza stood up straight-shouldered, with one leg close to the other, wearing only her short shirt, which revealed her knee and clung to her naked body as a useless defense. Her arms were folded over her bosom, to hide the breasts whose small nipples seemed to be the only props for the shirt about to fall. "I am cold," sobbed Tantza in an almost unreal voice. The young man put her arms around her as if she were a sleepy child, laid her on the bed and covered her. There she remained face upwards, her eyes in Titu's eyes. He kept arranging the bed cover around her. Then she found him near her. His cold hands felt her frozen breasts, climbed down on the waist. Then she started to mumble again "no, no", but turned to him and put her arms around his neck. At the same time, she felt an unknown knee working its way between her legs… She finally came to her senses. Titu was sitting on the edge of the bed and kissed the tears on her cheeks. She heard his voice: "Are you sorry, Tantza? I don't want you to be sorry!" She opened her eyes which sparkled in the dark that had fallen in the room. She moved her head on her pillow and said with a new sweetness in her voice: "No…" And after a while she asked: "Don't you love me anymore?" Titu answered with long kisses. She stopped him with a new question: "Do you believe now that I love you?" "I have never doubted it, he said. It was you who doubted my love." "Shall I not doubt it?" murmured Tantza. "No!" said Titu, mashing her lips. When he was alone, Titu let down the curtain and turned off the lamp. The helpless, yellowish light brought him to reality. The dizzying, mysterious perfume of her body was still floating in the room, just like her words, her moans and her twists… he now realized that this love had taken a turn full of responsibilities. And it had all happened just when he was starting to make his way in the world! He was in love with her, no doubt about that, but had he the right to ruin her life by joining it to his unsure destiny? How would he be able to support a wife when his own upkeep was so uncertain? At once, he found himself excuses, told himself that he had resisted the temptation, that Tantza herself had come to him, that not all love, no matter how great, had necessarily to end up in front of the civil marriage officer, that there had been other cases… but he stopped, feeling sick at his thoughts and reprimanded himself: "You are a bastard, Titu! Shame on you!" Nadina had transformed the bedroom of the mansion of her will. Gogu and Eugenia contented themselves with a relative comfort at the countryside, in which there was no room for beauty, only for utility. Nadina wouldn't give up the minimum of the artistic taste, not even on her trips, in the hotel rooms where she spent a night or two. Gogu was very proud of the double, massive, monumental bed and he said you could rest in it like in your mother's bosom. But Nadina felt that it would stifle her with its softness and especially its lack of proportions and taste. She had a large, simple sofa placed in the corner of the vestibule, near one of the big, barred windows which overlooked a nice flower garden. It was on this sofa that she had collapsed exhausted on the first night after the trip. But last night she couldn't fall asleep, although she wanted more than ever to be asleep, to evade the persistent fear that had seized her entire being. It seemed to her that she heard steps in the garden or in the other rooms, that somebody knocked on the door, that a hand tried the handle of the vestibule… whenever she got to the quasi-awareness that precedes sleep, some new, strange noise made her start and chased her calm away. It was only towards morning, after having listened to a cock's crow announcing the dawn, that she managed to fall asleep. Another cock crowing under her window in the garden, had woken her up just now from a dream that was so pleasant that she couldn't remember it, leaving her with the feeling and the regret that she hadn't dreamt it entirely. Unaware of the surroundings, she strove for a couple of minutes to fall asleep again, to go on dreaming, or at least to recall the dream. Instead, the terrible fear she had fought all night long seized her again and she came to her senses all of a sudden. She did not dare to open her eyes, as if by refusing to see, she felt safer. The silence was deep. First, she heard the natural, usually unnoticed, vibrations of her own auditory nerves, like an incessant, extremely delicate murmur, then the rhythmic beats of the heart, and after what seemed like ages to her, the sudden, indignant cackle of a hen in the garden, so clear as if the window had been wide open. This unexpected sound tugged at her heart for a moment but as soon as she identified it, her fear turned into a feeling of trust. She extended her hand to the little table on which she had put her gold watch. "Eight o'clock!" she whispered, examining it. "Oh, I am so tired! I don't feel like getting out of bed! I should go, though. I am late! I could be on my way if… I shall be in the car in half an hour, provided that Rudolf is ready. Where is this maid of mine?"She started calling, lengthening and singing the syllables: "Ileana… Ilenutza…! Where are you, Ilenutza? Ileana…" Within a couple of seconds, the girl poked her head around the vestibule door, slowly, as if not being sure whether she had heard her lady's voice. "Come on, girl, come on in! Have you woken up yet?" Nadina said, stretching lazily under the duvet and purring like a cat in its warm corner. "Has Rudolf taken out the car?"Ileana, a pretty, clean, young girl, always wore a cheerful smile which Nadina liked so much that she had even asked the maid to accompany her to Bucharest. Now she was scared."Have you had another argument with your mother?" went on Nadina, seeing her state of mind. "Come on, cheer up, being sad doesn't become you!""Alas, my dear mistress…"No sooner had the girl opened her mouth, than she started crying. Fighting back her tears, she could hardly tell to Nadina what had happened to the driver, and that Ruginoasa was on fire. Her mistress, unable to grasp the meaning of her words, kept asking:"Well, how about the car? I must go away no matter what…"When she finally understood the tragedy, she was seized by such a violent dread that she remained in bed, the duvet held up to her chin, watching Ileana with wide eyes glittering with a glass-like glare. Eventually, she started muttering in a broken, strange, helpless voice:"What shall I do now, Ilenutza? They will kill me as well…" The girl was fond of her and she pitied her fear. She plucked up courage and she explained, wholeheartedly and trustfully, that her father had left a long time ago to give the news to the boyars in Gliganu, and that the latter would come in their best carriage and take her away, so she could relax and stop worrying. And, besides, the people around here are not ruffians, they would not dare to harm anyone. Nadina was listening, although not understanding, and her girl's voice brought comfort and lessened the fear. Then all of a sudden she pushed away the duvet and said in a hurry:"Then I should get dressed, so that I be ready when they come. Give me my dressing gown and then…" She sat up on the edge of the sofa, put her feet into the soft slippers, stood up and took off her night gown, throwing it on the sheets. She stood naked, as she liked to wander in her house, in her bedroom, among the mirrors reflecting the appealing body and flattering her with regards to her beauty. But now she did not spare any thought for her nakedness. The gesture had been instinctual. She shuddered, although the room was warm enough. "Come on, Ilenutza, hurry up, I am cold," she whispered, her arms folded over her breasts. "My God, you are so beautiful, my lady!" said Ileana ecstatically, fetching the dressing gown and seeing her buck naked. Nadina couldn't refrain from smiling. Other people's admiration had never failed to flatter her. While the girl was helping her with the white, soft silk negligee and she was looking for the large sleeve to pass her arm through it, voices could be heard outside."It must be the boyars, dear mistress," Ileana shouted joyfully."Hurry up, girlie!" Nadina urged, her throat dry with emotion. "And come back to let me know!"Ileana fled outside. Nadina felt her heart thumping with impatience. Her knees were weak. She folded her dressing gown against her body and collapsed on the edge of the sofa. She was listening hard. She heard a confused noise, out of which a voice with a vaguely familiar tone; she strove to recognize the voice of the landholder or that of the lawyer, but to no use, as if their memory had been lost for good. "What if it is someone else?" it dawned on her.Her heart gave such a painful thump that she wanted to cry out. At that very moment she heard very clearly boots treading in the vestibule. The door burst open, as if about to fall down and a young, broad-shouldered, bony peasant stood in front of her, his black fur-cap proudly sideways, with frowning black eyes and a black sleeveless coat over a long shirt, and heavy boots. Petre Petre slammed the door shut and stamped his feet in front of her:"Lady, why…?"He broke off abruptly as if a furious hand had seized him by the neck. In an initial moment of dread, Nadina wanted to stand up. But her knees turned weak and her arm fell back on the edge of the divan. The negligee came undone and revealed her breasts, her womb and her legs, without her realizing it. Her terrified eyes were watching the peasant who had dashed into her room. He seemed familiar, then in half of a second she remembered him, he was the driver that had taken her in his sleigh and had impressed her with his unusual force and his calm confidence; nevertheless, he was the same man who had now come to kill her. At the same time she heard his question and saw his eyes. The next moment she noticed his voice breaking off and his frown being replaced by a new glitter. She had seen this greedy, confused look before, in the eyes of other men and it had always flattered her, as she believed it to be the clearest proof of the passion stirred by her beauty. The peasant's glare burned her skin like a flame. She felt it wandering over her body and suddenly she understood she was exposed. She jumped to her feet, covered her nakedness and screamed in despair:"What do you want from me? Help! No! Help!"To Petre, her cry sounded like a call. His blood was boiling in his veins and he was red in the face, to the white of the eyes. He saw nothing but her terrified look, and by that, all the more tempting, the light cloth, hiding her flesh. Instinctively, he extended his arms with big, gnarled hands, as if trying to stop an unstoppable drive and muttered helplessly:"Well…why…don't I…"Nadina made a start to the other window. One of the large sleeves of the negligee touched Petre's extended hand. His fingers seized it automatically."Leave me alone! Help! No!" Nadina cried out, trying to get her sleeve out of his grasp.Suddenly she felt his strong arm around her waist. With a lizard-like movement, she pulled herself away from the sleeve, left it in his hands and ran naked to the corner near the dining room, hiding behind an armchair. The matt glimmer of her body drove the man even madder. He threw away the gown he had kept in his hand as if in an offer to help her get dressed and he drew closer to the armchair as in a hide-and-seek game. "Stay away! Don't come closer! Help! What do you want to do?" she screamed, her head above the back of the armchair, following his moves with wide, terrified eyes.When Petre got near her, Nadina dashed off from her hiding place towards the vestibule and then outside. But Petre's long arm stood in the way and twisted around her waist. "Leave me alone! Help!" Peter put her up in the air as if she were a doll, seizing her legs with the other arm. He let his head back to look into her eyes. As she kicked, Nadina met his hot glare and saw his face lit by a great joy. She started slapping his cheeks, his head, she took off his cap and hit the eyes burning with desire. He put up with the blows as if they were caresses until he became aware of them and hid his face against her womb. Nadina hadn't felt the rough hands that had been squeezing her hips and waist, but now she felt his moustache and his hot lips scratching her skin. Twisting incessantly, her body slid down slowly until the peasant's mouth came between her small, round breasts. His thirsty lips tarried over one of them, kissed it passionately for a few moments and eventually bit it as if it were a ripe peach."It hurts! Help! Let me go!" Nadina screamed, starting to hit him again. Then she noticed that while kissing and caressing her, Petre had been drawing near to the divan covered by the creased duvet which she had left a while ago. Without lifting his face from her bosom, guided only by the instinct of greed, he laid her slowly on her back across the sofa, putting one arm around her and propping himself with the other. Nadina started to pull furiously at his hair. Suddenly she felt his hand as heavy as a mallet between her thighs, parting them and making room for his knees. The same hand felt her womb for a moment with a rough movement. Nadina contorted helplessly under the man's weight, twisting her head on the edge of the sofa:"I don't want to! Help! Help!"Petre lifted his head from her breasts and muttered in husky voice:"Calm down… don't… good girl!"Nadina shuddered painfully. She twisted for another couple of seconds, then her cry became fainter and fainter, and her hands fluttered like some frail wings. Then her sobs turned into jerky groans, dominated by the young man's panting breath. With closed eyes and half-open mouth, Nadina kept twisting her head without being aware of it, while she put her arms around the neck of the man who turned upside down her whole being in a dazzling thrill. She was seized by such a great joy as if she was sharing an absolute, bitter-sweet secret.Exhausted, she remained still, face upwards, her eyes closed. All of a sudden, Petre's mocking voice echoed from somewhere far away:"Well, you see, my lady, you fretted for nothing, I did nothing to you…" Nadina felt as if waking up from a nightmare. She covered her nakedness with the night gown nearby and covered her face with her hands, feeling she detested terribly the body she had adored.Petre had picked up his fur cap and put it on his head. He examined Nadina for a moment, as if only then had he seen her better. He shrugged and muttered to himself:"Lady, or rather not…"Then he added in a tone of voice that tried to sound commanding:"If you care for your life, my lady, run away! Do you hear me? Run! Otherwise…"Nadina looked at him as if she hadn't understood, because, while fighting to protect her body, she had forgotten the real danger. His glare made her come to her senses, recalled everything and she started to sob:"Where shall I run? Save me! What shall I do?"Petre wouldn't relent. He repeated more sternly:"May God guide you, lady, just don't tarry around here…"He went out swallowing the end of the sentence. Nadina heard his boots treading heavily on the floor. She felt for her stockings near the sofa, muttering with dry lips as if she had actually spoken to somebody:"I must leave… Where shall I go? My good God, where shall I go?" Set against the violent background of the 1907 peasant revolt that Liviu Rebreanu (1885-1944) – more familiar with rural life than the urban environment, which he treats more superficially – seems to sympathize with, The Uprising (1932) unleashes the dogs of barbarism; both scenes presented here were subject to criticism – Herdelea's erotic episode as trivial and insignificant, and the peasant Petre Petre's falling in love with the victim of his rape, the frivolous, adulterous landlady Nadina, as unrealistic (G. Călinescu). Even so, the novel remains a masterpiece of novelistic construction.

by Liviu Rebreanu (1885-1944)