The Uprising

excerpts As he wandered out in the yard that night, as every night, actually, Platamonu saw the fire lights towards the East. He thought it should be in Teleorman, at the border of the district, or maybe in Izvoru. Anyway, it was a sign that the uprising was closing up and that one of those days it would break out there, too. So he decided that they, too, would take advantage of Nadina's departure and let her give them a ride to Piteshti. He almost woke up his wife, to consult with her on what they could take with them out of the house, except for money and jewelry.In the morning, he woke Aristide, who used to sleep until noon, a little earlier.Aristide got a bit of a miff for having been disturbed out of his sweetest sleep, and chaffed Platamonu's fear which made him resemble the lawyer Stavrat who, ever since he had come, was constantly shivering with terror. However, he got up, because he was actually more afraid and he only showed off, to put on heroic airs and save face in front of his father, whose love he used and abused in every possible way.Around seven o'clock, the three of them were ready to go. At least Olimp Stavrat had been preparing since the night before and he had been sleeping with his clothes on, so as not to be surprised by some unexpected nocturnal attack. Of course, Platamonu had avoided breaking the news to any of the servants or farm hands for fear word might spread through the village and either alarm, or encourage, peasants to rebellion. The will of God was only to be made after their departure.At half past eight, when they had started worrying about Nadina's being late, probably due to her idleness and coquetry, even in that time of danger, they received the unexpected visit of Dumitru Ciulici.After a moment of dismay, the lawyer Stavrat expressed his indignation regarding the fact that "this lady is going to ruin us all", adding that she might as well have come with this good man's wagon, with no risk of losing face, instead of keeping everybody waiting for God only knows how long, until the peasants came and slew them all. Aristide suggested Dumitru should take the cart and quickly bring her there, while they prepared the coach they would then all take to Costeshti. But Platamonu said it would have been wiser if they all took the coach, passed through Lespezi and board Nadina, then making their exit through Cantacuzu to the main district road, which was safe and probably guarded by either the police or the army. So he had the horses harnessed immediately.They were all sitting on the verandah, waiting for the coach to come out and questioning Dumitru Ciulici for details in the meantime. Mrs. Platamonu would still raid the house, crying and constantly asking the servants to take care of her things, for she would then take care of their souls in her turn. Dumitru, playing with his hat, was just about to tell them, standing next to the stairs, that the people of Lespezi were calm and only sorry that the field work was being delayed, when a group of about forty peasants noisily burst into the yard, with a few of them wielding some sticks in the air. The three of them remained stone-still on their chairs. In no more than a second the people surrounded the verandah yelling, swearing, jumbling together, as if each of them wanted to conquer a more central spot. Only Dumitru had been left on his own, bare headed, in the middle of the angry crowd. The servants got out of the stables, flabbergasted. The coachman came out with the horses ready to be harnessed to the coach that had been brought from the shed.Platamonu recollected himself, got up on his feet and asked them in a puzzled and friendly voice:"What seems to be the trouble, folks? Who got you so upset?"More than a dozen voices answered as one, screaming at the top of their lungs. There were curses, swearing and menaces, all of them melting together in a deafening commotion out of which one could only distinguish bits of dirty talk. Platamonu moved his gaze from one anger distorted face to another and recognized peasants from Amara, Lespezi and Gliganu. He stopped at Kirila Paun, who was more up front, next to teacher Dragosh's brother, and gently spoke to him:"You tell me, Kirila, what the trouble is and what it is that you want from us, for you know best that I never hesitate when…"Kirila Paun started out in his regular slow voice and went on while climbing up the four steps of the verandah, leaning on his new, still green stick that he held with his left hand:"As far as they are concerned, they can speak for themselves, but I have my own quarrel with this villain here, for Gherghina…"He got on the verandah and, the moment he had said "villain", he rushed upon Aristide, who sat there dumbfounded with a clumsy smile on his face, and slapped him so badly that the noise of his palm was heard more like that made by a shovel."Don't hit him, Kirila!" Platamonu managed to shout.But at that moment the peasants dashed for them hitting with their fists, and treading on them on the verandah floors. The lawyer Stavrat was screaming desperately:"Don't kill me, brothers! I'm not from here! Dear God!"Mrs. Platamonu and the other women could be heard screaming from the house through the noise made by the fight and the shouting. The wrangle only lasted for a few moments. Then Nicolae Dragosh spoke as if giving an order:"Hey! Stop! Let him go, uncle Kirila! Wait up, you people, we haven't come all this way just to beat them up! Stop hitting him, boy, do you hear me?…we're here to castrate the Greek, so that he may never attack people's daughters and wives again!"A moment of commotion followed. Some voices asked "what did he say", others yelled back "he wants to castrate him", while some others screamed "he'd better kill him, there would be no loss". Aristide, stunned more by the unexpected storm of blows and lying among the peasants' ankle boots and sandals, was thinking of how he could try to creep away and then vanish. But Platamonu started crying out with terror:"Spare him, Kirila! You good folks, have mercy! Nicolae, you too, forgive him!"Nobody listened to him. Somebody shouted: "Beware the elders!" Others added: "Make room!… move away!"Nicolae Dragosh got one of Aristide's legs, who had just managed to crawl a bit farther, and pulled him towards the middle, turning him face up. Then he ordered them around like a corporal:"Come, you, Terente and Vasilica, hold his hands, and you, Costica, sit on him so he can't move, you people take his legs, right… Hold him tight, boys!… come on, uncle Kirila, take out your knife, you've castrated enough pigs to know the drill!"He started unbuttoning Aristide's pants himself who, aware of the preparations, was screaming as hard as he could."Sprawl his legs, boys!" Kirila Paun shouted, while leisurely kneeling with the knife in his right hand. "Hold him tight!"The peasants had gathered around them, greedily watching the show. Platamonu rushed like a lunatic among them:"Don't cut, Kirila!… oh, my God!… kill me instead, folks!… oh, my God!"A few arms blocked his way, a few fists knocked him down and Kirila's voice was heard blaming from the middle of the verandah:"This is exactly how I cried when I saw my Gherghina's stomach plumping up, while this scoundrel laughed and sneered at me!"Aristide wailed then so loud that the windows rattled:"Help! Help! Oh, my God! Father, don't leave me!"While his howls of pain turned deeper and huskier, until they became grunting roars and, then, weakened into sobbing moans, Kirila Paun kept cutting and speaking in a calm voice, as if he had been handling a piglet:"Hush, now, lad, hush, for you have been raping our women enough, now stand still for a change… oh, if only you knew how my heart pinched all winter long and how I looked for help everywhere…"Gloomy, Nicolae Dragosh watched and grumbled and, from time to time, he gazed at Platamonu, who was still struggling to free himself from the peasants' hands and sobbing. "OK, look, here they are!" Kirila said finally getting up."Put them on his chest, Uncle Kirila, so he can make himself a stew out of them!" Nicolae Dragosh roared, turning away with disgust.A few laughs burst out, then shouts and then the clamor that had cooled off for a while. Aristide had been left lying on the floor, groaning. The leaseholder broke loose from the peasants that had been holding him and hurried to his son:"My darling boy, my dear boy… oh, the rascals!"Kirila Paun descended into the yard with Nicolae, while the others followed, making the most terrible fuss. But Platamonu suddenly came to his senses; he called his wife, who had fainted a few times because of the fright, and told her that they needed to leave immediately, at least for Costeshti, to see a doctor, or the boy would die. Then, in a desperate effort, he lifted Aristide from the ground, held him like a baby and carried him away from the noisy peasants, who nevertheless made way and let him pass and then cross the yard to the coach that had been prepared before, next to which the coachman fidgeted in astonishment. And treading with difficulty, followed by Mrs. Platamonu and by two older female servants, the leaseholder cried out:"Mitrofan, quickly, get the horses ready and let's go to the hospital, or else the boy dies!"When they heard and saw him, the people eased off, as if the father's grief had moved them. Only Dragosh snorted with disdainful hatred:"Go, go now, maybe the doctors can stitch them back!"No one else laughed. They were all watching the leaseholder getting into the coach, with Aristide in his arms, Mrs. Platamonu covering them up and then getting on the driving box, next to the coachman, and Dumitru Ciulici with the two servants trying to make themselves useful. Then the horses started for the gate. Passing by the group of peasants, Platamonu shouted with tears in his eyes and in the saddest voice:"Well, Kirila, God is above us and he will punish you more than you have hurt me!""Until God's punishment I've already endured yours!" Kirila Paun answered."You damned Greeks!" Nicolae Dragosh swore in a low voice.The coach noisily left the yard. A few moments later, Nicolae, who had cooled off, said:"Now we're done with our business and we can return home, for we have other things to attend to!"A dissatisfied, sturdy-built fellow stood up to them:"What about us, cousin? Don't tell me you had us all rising up so that you could castrate the Greek's son?""What do you mean by that, boy; do you want us to teach you what to do once you got rid of the fleecers?" Dragosh snapped at him. "Don't you have minds of your own? What are you, toddlers? Come, uncle Kirila! Come on, folks, the ones from Amara, we should know what to do without asking advice from these people here!""Right! He's right!" a few voices answered. "Get going on your way, for we won't linger either!"However, after the people from Amara left, they remained in the mansion yard, puzzled, such that one of them eventually exclaimed:"What exactly was this, fellows?"Then all of the sudden, as if they had got mad with themselves for their powerlessness, they started yelling, swearing and urging each other as hard as they could:"Set fire on it, like in Ruginoasa! – Wait up, now, we can't leave empty handed! –Why set fire, folks, when we can each take our share – the barns are stuffed! – Good God and Mother of Jesus! – Come, boys, don't put on the back-burner! – Don't shy away, Ion, the lords aren't here anymore!"One of them stormed on the verandah where the servants were tearfully cleaning up. The others, like sheep, followed him closely. The women ran inside shouting for fear. More and more peasants who had heard that people were gathering in the yards came from the road. The ones who had got into the house obstinately yelled, and broke everything around them, as if they were fighting deadly enemies. Some of them came out carrying the things they had thought to be more valuable and left to take them home, shrieking with delight, hasty to return, to choose more before everything was destroyed. The new comers sniffed around the yard, and many of them circled the barns. Soon the mansion was swarming with men, women, children, all worried that others might make a bigger profit… During this time, the lawyer Stavrat, after the dizziness of the first moment when the blows had come upon him like a bolt, took advantage of the commotion around young Platamonu and sneaked into the house and then out again, as he knew the exit ways pretty well (he had been observing them for the last few days precisely in view of a situation like the one taking place); and, passing through the kitchen, he reached the back of the building and then entered a small, peripheral yard. Although hare-brained by the fists and the drubbing, he was smart enough not to take refuge in some outhouse of the mansion, as he had thought at first and, instead, climbed the wooden fence from the vegetable garden and bravely walked over the field, aiming to get to the road sheltered by the peasants' houses. He never would have thought himself capable of such terrible and tiring adventures at the age of fifty-six. He could hardly remember that he had a mild heart condition, that he had incipient asthma and that the doctor had forbidden him to run. He strolled like a mountain hunter across the stocky swaths and puddles, ducking a bit so that nobody might see him, sweating and experiencing a state of exhilaration that constantly renewed his strength. Finally, the last house! He was tempted to stop, breathe a little and dry off the sweat, but he cautiously vanquished his idleness and went on with his diagonal march, to get nearer to the road. Suddenly he spotted a wagon. He recognized it and started shouting. His voice was covered by the rattling noise of the wheels. He panicked for a moment. What if he met a group of peasants in his way? The wagon galloped away. "Aren't these peasants stupid!" he thought sadly. "They dart upon the leaseholder to kill him and then they let him leave in his coach… had I known, I would have stayed behind instead of exhausting myself through these hollows!" "I have to leave at once!" Nadina constantly whispered, dressing up in a desperate haste, as if the house had been on fire. "Where could my hat be?… Oh, I've got to go!"She gathered her small personal things, the watch and a few other trifles, and pressed them in the golden monogram, red leather purse. Passing by the mirror, she took an involuntary peak at herself and shivered when she discovered the figure that seemed to be that of a stranger."Oh, poor me!" she stammered in confusion. "And all of this because… oh, I must get out of here, I must…"Petre had passed from the lobby to the verandah and had gone down to the yard, where other people of Lespezi had gathered in the meantime. Toader Strimbu was teasing Dumitru Ciulici's wife because of Ileana, who was trying to get inside, to her mistress, while Toader kept blocking her way and even pushed her once, such that the girl started crying."Thank God you're here, Petre, for the women almost tore me to pieces!" Toader laughed full-heartedly. "You sure did spend some time in there, Petrica! Or was it that the lady couldn't let you go after such a boon?""Shut your mouth, Toderitza, don't talk nonsense!" the lad frowned at him. "You're a man and no dog! I've scolded her enough, don't you worry… she's leaving now and we'll be left with the domain and everything!""Good job!" a few people of Lezpezi spoke up.But Toader Strimbu became all red:"This wasn't our deal, Petrica! I haven't come all this way for that!""What is it that you want, Toderitza?" Petre asked."You said it yourself she's shunned us enough and…""Who was it that she's shunned, you or me?""If you give up, it's your business!" Toader went on more and more worked up. "But I'm a widower and I've been like this for a long time and… here, Ilie, hold this for me!" he suddenly added, turning to Ilie Cirlan and handing him the axe. "I won't follow others who…"He dashed swearing to the verandah and vanished. Ileana, horrified, grabbed Petre's hand:"Petrica, stop him, he wants to kill her!""Damn them, they won't listen to me!" the lad grumbled, controlling himself. "I've told him and…"The moment Toader was entering the lobby, Nadina, fully dressed, holding her purse, was stepping out of the bedroom. Catching sight of her, the peasant came on, scoffing at her:"Where do you think you're going, you pretty thing? Wait, give me a kiss!"Nadina hesitated for a blink, then gushed out like an arrow in the lounge and locked the door. Toader, in excitement, pushed the door out of his way without even touching the knob."Help! Help!" Nadina screamed with her eyes popping out of their sockets."You don't fancy me, lady, do you?" Toader grinned. "There's no problem, I fancy you enough!"He threw her down and lifted her skirts. With one last effort Nadina screamed:"Help! Help!""Stop yelling, you damned wanton!" the peasant mumbled while strangling her with his hands.Nadina's voice faded out, as if it had been rooted out of her throat…In a few minutes Toader Strimbu made another appearance on the verandah, with Nadina's purse hidden in the pocket of his jacket and with a contented grin on his face. He took the axe from Ilie and said in a husky voice:"You can go, too, Ilie, she may still be warm!"The people looked at him with fearful curiosity. But Ileana broke out:"God, he killed the lady! Murderer! Murderer!""Oh, my God, tell me you didn't do that, Toderitza!" Petre started worrying.Toader Strambu answered calmly:"The truth is she died like a nestling, really! The moment I squeezed her a bit to shut her down, she stopped breathing!""Oh, my God!" Petre kept on saying, growing darker. "You shouldn't have done that, Toderitza, for from now on…"The peasant looked at Petre, then at the others in an astonishment that was gradually changing into indignation and wrath. His wide unshaven face was full of prickles and the small, sunken bloodshot eyes sparkled like two embers over which the storm had come. He started screaming like a maddened beast, moving to and fro, as if he had been stepping on live coals, muttering and foaming:"So what if she died? Didn't my wife die of starvation, and I couldn't even get her to the doctor? Has any fleecer wondered about her death? I'm still in debt with many people and with the priest, for the funeral, and my children have nothing to eat and I have no stretch of land, and I'm all worn out, and I work my butt off and I can still hardly feed the kids… and you scold me for having killed her, instead of spitting on her, dead as she may be, for it was her well-being that deprived us of our land and made her give it to her kind… I'm gonna kill them all… I'll hit them with the axe if they come my way… there won't be a trace left of her and of their kin!"He was wielding the axe above his head. The husky voice had the outbursts of a broken bugle:"We've waited and endured enough… now I want to cool off! I have to drink up their blood or else I'll just pine away!"He dashed at the mansion windows with his axe. The glass and frames crumbled to pieces, one by one. The other peasants, contaminated by his destroying fury, rushed as well, with whatever they were carrying, to either break or tear something to pieces. Dumitru's wife kept yelling and weeping for fear that her things may be ruined, too; while Ileana hurried inside, to see for herself what had happened to Nadina. Pavel Tunsu had spotted the car from the very beginning. And, as he had discovered a pick mattock in a warehouse, he started hitting the car, growing more, and more, angry as he discovered that it wouldn't dismantle easily. But when he noticed that he had broken the gas tank, he put the mattock down, got himself a bit of hay from the barn, made a wisp out of it, searched his pockets until he found a match, then lit the hay without any haste, waiting till it was really burning, and then threw it under the vehicle, on the puddle that had poured out in the meantime. A bluish flame suddenly enveloped the car, rushed to the clapboard roof, and spread to the nearby straw attics. In a few moments the annexes were covered in a huge cloud of smoke out of which yellow blades spanned in restless twists. "Fire! Fire!" people jumped with wild joy."Oh, the way it warms up my heart!" Toader Strimbu screamed with his face moist of sweat, running towards the burning outbuildings, as if he had wanted to throw himself into the flames.Next to the verandah, Petre Petre remained confused, watching as in a dream the people swarming up the yard. It was only later that he discovered that Matei Dulmanu hadn't moved, either."Petrica, let's get the lady out of the house, or else she'll be burnt and it would be a pity…" "That would be a wise thing to do, uncle Matei," Petre approved rapidly. "The people seem to have lost their minds!"It was exactly at that time that Ileana was coming out of the house of danger, holding Nadina, wrapped up in a white sheet. A milestone in Romanian literature, Liviu Rebreanu (1885-1944), who detached the Romanian novel from its idyllic, "sowerist" (after a literary trend) tradition, bringing it up to date with European tendencies, was also Director of the National Theater in Bucharest, Chairman of the Romanian Writers' Society, and a member of the Romanian Academy. The Uprising (1932), a classic of Romanian literature, owing to solid narrative construction and compelling scenes of mass violence, evokes the 1907 peasant revolt that endangered the very foundation of the Romanian state.

by Liviu Rebreanu (1885-1944)