AT MANJOALA'S INN
BY I. L. CARAGIALE
IT took a quarter of an hour to reach Manjoala's Inn. From there to Upper Popeshti was about nine miles ; at an easy pace, that meant one hour and a half. A good hack-if they gave it oats at the inn, and three-quarters' of an hour rest could do it comfortably. That is to say, one quarter of an hour and three-quarters of an hour made one hour, on to Popeshti was one hour and a half, that made two and a half. It was past seven already ; at ten o'clock at latest, I should be with Pocovnicu Iordache. I was rather late-I ought to have started earlier-but, after all, he expected me.
I was turning this over in my mind when I saw in the distance, a good gun-shot length away, a great deal of light coming from Manjoala's Inn, for it still retained that name. It was now really Madame Manjoala's inn-the husband died some five years ago. What a capable woman ! How she had worked, how she had improved the place
They were on the point of selling the inn while her husband was alive, Since then she had paid off the debts, and had repaired the house ; moreover, she had built a flight of stone steps, and every one said she had a good sum of money too. Some surmised that she had found a hidden treasure, others that she had dealings with the supernatural,
Once some robbers attempted an attack upon her. They tried to force the door. One of them, the strongest, a man like a bull, wielded the axe, but when he tried to strike he fell to the ground. They quickly raised him up-he was dead. His 6roeher tried to speak, but could not-he was dumb. There were four of them. They hoisted the dead man on to his brother's back, the other two took his feet that they might carry him off to bury him somewhere away.
As they left the courtyard of the inn, Madame Manjoala began to scream from the window, "Thieves!" and in front of her there suddenly appeared the sub-prefect with numerous men and four mounted soldiers. The official shouted:
"Who is there ?"
Two of the robbers escaped. The dumb man remained behind with his dead brother on his back.
Now what happened at the trial? Every one knew the mute had been able to speak. How could anyone doubt but chat the dumb man was shamming ? They beat him till he was crazy to try and make his speech come back, bur in vain. Since then the lads had lost all desire to attack the place.
While all this was passing through my mind I arrived at the inn. A number of carts were waiting in the yard of the inn. Some were carrying timber down the valley ; others, maize up the hill.
It was a raw autumn evening. The drivers were warming themselves round the fire. It was the light from the latter that had been visible so far away. An ostler took my horse in charge to give him some oats in the stable. I entered the tap-room where a good many men were drinking, while two sleepy gipsies, one with a lute and one with a zither, were playing monotonously in a corner. I was hungry and cold. The damp had pierced through me.
"Where's your mistress?" I asked the boy behind the bar.
"By the kitchen fire."
"It ought to be warmer there," I said, and passed through the vestibule, out of the tap-room into the kitchen.
It was very clean in the kitchen, and the smell was not like that in the tap-room, of fur and boots and damp shoes ; there was a smell of new-made bread. Madame Manjoala was looking after the oven.
" Well met, Mistress Marghioala." Welcome, Mr. Fanica."
" Is there a chance of getting anything to eat ? "
" Up to midnight even, for respectable people like yourself."
Mistress Marghioala quickly gave orders to one of the servants to lay a table in the next room, and then, going up to the hearth, said
"Look, choose for yourself."
Mistress Marghioala was beautiful, well-built and fascinating, that I knew ; but never since I had known her-and I had known her for a long time, for I had passed Manjoala's Inn many a time when my dead father was alive, as the road to the town lug by it-had she appeared to me more attractive. I was young, smart and daring, much more daring than smart. I came up on her left side as sire was bending over the hearth, and took her by the waist! with my hand I took hold of her right arm, which was as hard as iron, and the devil tempted me to give it a pinch.
Have you got nothing to do?" said the woman, looking at me askance.
But I, to cover my blunder, said
" What marvellous eyes you have, Mistress Marghioala!"
"Don't try and flatter me; you had better tell me what to give you."
"Give me--give me--give me yourself."
Indeed, you have marvellous eyes, Mistress Marghioala!" sighing.
"Supposing your father-in-law heard you ?"
"What father-in-law? What do you mean by that?,
"You think because you hide yourself under your cap that nobody sees what you do. Aren't you going to Pocovnicu Iordache to engage yourself to his eldest daughter ? Come, don't look at me like that, go into the next room to dinner,"
I had seen many clean and quiet rooms in the course of my life, but a room like that one ! What a bed! What curtains! What walls! What a ceiling! All white as milk. And the lamp-shade, and all those crochet things of every kind and shape! And the warmth, like being under a hen's wing, and a smell of apples and quinces !
I was about to seat myself at the table, when, according to a habit I had acquired in my childhood, I turned to bow towards the east. I looked carefully round all along the walls-not an Icon to be seen.
"What are you looking for?" said Mistress Marghioala.
" Your Icons. Where do you keep them ? "
" Dash the Icons ! They only breed worms and wood-lice."
What a cleanly woman ! I seated myself at the table, and crossed myself as was my custom, when suddenly there was a yell. It appeared that with the heel of my boot I had trodden upon an old Tom cat which was under the table.
Mistress Marghioala jumped up quickly and undid the outside door. The injured cat made a bound outside while the colt! air rushed in and extinguished the lamp. She groped about for the matches. I searched here, she searched there. We met face to face in the dark!, very bold, took her in my arms and began to kiss her. The lady now resisted, now yielded ; her cheeks were burning, her mouth was cold, soft down fluttered about her ears At last the servant arrived with a tray with viands on it, and a light. We must have hunted some time for the matches, for the chimney of the lamp was quite cold. I lit it again.
What excellent food ! Hot bread, roast duck with cabbage, boiled veal sausages, and wine ! And Turkish coffee! And laughter and conversation! Good luck to Mistress Marghioala.
After coffee she said to the old maidservant:
" Tell them to bring out a half-bottle of muscadine."
That wonderful old wine ! A sort of languor seized my every limb. I sat on one side of the bed, draining the last amber drops from my glass, and smoking a cigarette, while through the cloud of tobacco smoke I watched Mistress Marghioala who sat on a chair opposite rolling cigarettes for me. I Said:
"Indeed, Mistress Marghioala, you have marvellous eyes! Do you know what ?"
" Would it trouble you to make me another cup of coffee, not quite so sweet as this ? "
How she laughed! When the maid brought coffee-pot, she said:
" Madam, you sit talking here--you don't know what it is like outside."
" What is it? "
"A high wind has got up, and there is a storm coming,"
I jumped to my feet and looked at the time ; it was nearly a quarter to eleven. Instead of half an hour, I had been at the inn for two hours and a half! That's what comes when one begins to talk.
" Let some one get my horse ! "
" Who ? The ostlers have gone to bed."
"I will go to the stables myself."
" They have bewitched you at Pocovnicu! " said the lady with a ripple of laughter, as she barred my passage through the door.
I put her gently on one side and went out on to the veranda. It was indeed a dreadful night. The drivers' fires had died down, men and animals were sleeping on the straw, lying one against the other on the ground, while above them the wind howled wildly.
"There is a great storm," said Mistress Marghioala, shuddering as she seized me firmly by the hand. "You are mad to start in such weather. Stay the night here : start at daybreak to-morrow."
" That's impossible."
I forcibly withdrew my hand. I proceeded to the stables. With great difficulty I roused an ostler and found my horse. I tightened the girths, fastened the horse to the steps, and then went to the room to bid my hostess good night. The woman, immersed in thought, was sitting on the bed with my cap in her hand. She was turning and twisting it about.
" How much have I to pay ?" I asked.
"You can pay me when you come back;' replied my hostess, looking intently into the lining of my cap.
And then she rose to her feet and held it out to me. I took the cap, and put it on my head, rather on one side.
I said, looking straight into the woman's eyes, which seemed to shine most strangely:
" I kiss your eyes, Mistress Marghioala ! "
"A safe journey to you."
I threw myself into the saddle, the old servant opened the gate for me, and out I rode. Resting my left hand on my horse's flank, I turned my head round. Over the top of the fence could be seen the open door of the room, and in the opening was outlined the white figure of the woman with her hand above her arched eyebrows.
I rode at a slow pace whistling a gay song to myself until I turned the corner of the fence to get to the road, when the picture was hidden from my sight. I said to myself, "Here we go! " and crossed myself. At that moment I plainly heard the banging of a door and the mew of a cat. My hostess, unable to see me any longer, went hastily back into the warmth and doubtless caught the cat. in the door. That damned cat! It was always getting under people's feet.
I had gone a good part of the way. The storm increased and shook me in the saddle. Overhead, cloud after cloud hurried across the valley and above the hill, as though in fear of chastisement from on high ; now massed together, now dispersed, they revealed at long intervals the pale light of the waning moon.
The damp cold pierced through me. I felt it paralysing legs and arms. As I rode with head bent to avoid the buffeting of the wind, I began to feel pains in my neck ; my forehead and temples were burning, and there was a drumming in my ears.
" I have drunk too much," I thought to myself, as I pushed my cap on to the nape of my neck, and raised my forehead towards the sky.
But the whirling clouds made me dizzy. I felt a burning sensation below my left rib. I drew in a deep breath of cold air, and a knife seemed to drive right through my chest. I tucked my chin down again. My cap seemed to squeeze my head like a vice. I took it off and placed it on the point of my saddle. I felt ill. It was foolish of me to have started. Everybody would be asleep at Pocovnicu Iordache. They would not have expected me. They would not have imagined that I should be silly enough to start in such weather. I urged on my horse which staggered as though it, too, had been drinking.
The wind had sunk, the rain had ceased. It was misty ; it began to grow dark and to drizzle. I put my cap on again. Suddenly the blood began to beat against my temples. The horse was quite done, exhausted by the violence of the wind. I dug my heels into him, I gave him a cut with my whip ; the animal took a few hasty paces, then snorted, and stood still on the spot as though he had seen some unexpected obstacle in front of him. I looked. I really saw, a few paces in front of the horse, a tiny creature jumping and skipping. An animal ! What could it be ? A wild beast ? It was a very small one. I put my hand to my revolver ; then I clearly heard the bleat of a kid.
I urged on the horse as much as I could. It turned straight round and started to go back. A few paces forward, and again it stood snorting. The kid again ! The horse stopped; it turned around. I gave it some cuts with the whip and tightened the curb. It moved forward-a few paces-the kid again!
The clouds had dispersed. One could see now .is clearly as possible. It was a little black kid. Now it trotted forward, now it turned back, it flung cut its hooves, and finally reared itself on to its hind legs and ran about with its little beard in front, end its head ready to butt, making wonderful bounds and playing every kind of wild antic.
I got off my horse, which would not advance for the world, and took the reins up short. I bent down to the ground.
" Come, come! " I called the kid, with my hand as though I wanted to give it some bran.
The kid approached, jumping continually. The horse snorted madly, it tried to break away. I went down on my knees, but I held the horse firmly. The kid came close up to my hand. It was a dear little black buck which allowed itself to be petted and lifted up. I put it in the bag on the right side among some clothes. At that moment the horse was convulsed and shook in every limb as though in its death throes.
I remounted. The horse started off like a mad thing. For some time it went like the wind over ditches, over mole-hills, over bushes, without my being able to stop it, without my knowing where I was, or being able to guess where it was taking me. During this wild chase, when at any moment I might have broken my neck, with body frozen and head on fire, I thought of the comfortable haven I had so stupidly left. Why ? Mistress Marghioala would have given me her room, otherwise she would not have invited me.
The kid was moving in the bag, trying to make itself more comfortable. I looked towards it ; with its intelligent little head stuck out of the bag it was peering wisely at me. The thought of another pair of eyes flashed through my mind. What a fool I'd been.
The horse stumbled ; I stopped him forcibly ; he cried to move on again, but sank to his knees.
Suddenly, through an opening in the clouds, appeared the waning moon, shining on the side of a slope. The sight of it struck me all of a heap. It was in front of me! There were then two moons in the sky ! 1 was going uphill ; the moon ought to be behind me ! I turned my head quickly to see the real moon. I had missed my way-I was going downhill ! Where was I ? I looked ahead-a maize-field with uncut stalks ; behind me lay open field, I crossed myself, and pressing my horse with my weary legs, I tried to help him rise. Just then I Felt a violent blow on my right foot. A cry! I had kicked the kid! I put my hand quickly into the bag ; the bag was empty. I had lost the kid on the road! The horse rose shaking its head as though it were giddy. It reared on to its hind legs, hurled itself on one side, and threw me to the other ; finally he tore away like a thing possessed and disappeared into the darkness.
By the time I got up, much shaken, I could hear a rustle among the maize, and dose by came the sound of a man's voice saying clearly
" Hi! Hi! May Heaven remove you ! "
" Who is there?" I called.
" An honest man."
" Which Gheorghe ? "
"Natrut-Gheorghe Natrut, who watches the maize-fields"
"Aren't you coming this way?"
"Yes, here I come."
And the figure of a man became visible among the maize.
" May I ask, brother Gheorghe, where we are at this moment? I have missed my way in the storm."
" Where do you want to go to ? "
" To Upper Popeshti."
"Eh ! To Pocovnicu Iordache."
" In that case you have not missed your road. You'll have some trouble to get to Popeshti-you are only at Haculeshti here."
"At Haculeshti ? " I said joyfully. " Then I am close to Manjoala's Inn."
"Look there ; we are at the back of the stables."
"Come and show me the way so that I don't just go and break my neck."
I had been wandering about for four hours. A few steps brought us to the inn. Mistress Marghioala's room was lit up and shadows moved across the curtain. Who knew what other, wiser traveller had enjoyed that bed ! I should have to rest content with some bench by the kitchen fire. But what luck ! As I knocked some one heard me. The old maidservant hurried to open to me. As I entered I stumbled over something soft on the threshold. The kid! Did you ever ! It was my hostess' kid! It, too, entered the room and went and lay down comfortably under the bed.
What was I to say? Did the woman know I had returned, or had she got up very early ? The bed was made.
" Mistress Marghioala ! " So much I was able to say.
Wishing to thank God that I had escaped with my life, I started to raise my right hand to my head.
The lady quickly seized my hand and pulling it down, drew me with all her strength into her arms.
I can still see that mom. What a bed I What curtains! What walls! What a ceiling! All white as milk. And the lamp-shade, and all those crochet things of every kind and shape! And the warmth, like being under a hen's wing, and a smell of apples and quinces !
I should have stayed a long time at Manjoala's Inn if my father-in-law, Pocovnicu Iordache, God forgive him, had not fetched me away by force. Three times I fled from him before the marriage, amt returned to the inn, until the old man, who at all cost wanted me for a son-in-law, set men to catch me and take me gagged to a little monastery m the mountains. Forty days of fasting, genuflexions and prayers. I left it quite repentant. I got engaged and I married.
Only lately, one clear winter's night, while my father-in-law and I were sitting talking together, as is the custom of the country, in front of a flagon of wine, we heard from a prefect, who arrived from the town where he had been making some purchases, that during the day there had been a big fire at Haculeshti. Manjoala's Inn had been burnt to the ground, burying poor Mistress Marghioala, who thus met her end under a gigantic funeral pyre.
"And so at the last the sorceress was thrown on the bonfire!" said my father-in-law, laughing.
And I began to tell the above story for at least the hundredth time. Pocovnicu maintained, among other things, that the lady put a charm into the lining of my cap, and that the kid and the cat were one and the same.
" May be;" I said.
"She was the devil, listen to me."
"She may have been," I replied, "but if that is so, then the devil, it seems, leads to the good."
"At first it seems to be good, to catch one, but later one sees where it leads one."
" How do you know all this ? "
"That's not your business;" replied the old man. "that's another story"
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