Ion Luca Caragiale (1852 ?—1912)

Caragiale
first came to the attention of his country’s readers through the pages of
Convorbiri Literare, a] literary periodical to which he contributed several
short stories. Maiorescu, Roumania’s most distinguished critic, became at once
interested in this new author, and under his influence, Caragiale quickly
assumed a place of importance among the writers of his country. Prof. S.
Mehedintzi, in a preface to Roumanian Stories, writes: “Caragiale, our most
noted dramatic author, is … a man of culture, literary and artistic in the
highest sense of the word. The Easter Torch ranks him high among the great
short-story writers.”

This
story, translated by Lucy Byng, appeared in Roumanian Stories, published in
1921 by John Lane, by whose permission, and that of the translator, it is here
reprinted.

The
Easter Torch

Leiba
Zibal, mine host of Podeni, was sitting, lost in thought, fey a table placed in
the shadow in front of the inn; he was awaiting the arrival of the coach which
should have come some time ago; it was already an hour behind time.

The
story of Zibal’s life is a long and cheerless one: when he is taken with one of
his feverish attacks it is a diversion for him to analyze one by one the most
important events in that life.

Huckster,
seller of hardware, jobber, between whiles even rougher work perhaps, seller of
old clothes, then tailor, and bootblack in a dingy alley in Jassy; all this had
happened to him since the accident whereby he lost his situation as office boy
in a big wine-shop. Two porters were carrying a barrel down to a cellar under
the supervision of the lad Zibal. A difference arose between them as to the
division of their earnings. One of them seized a piece of wood that lay at hand
and struck his comrade on the forehead, who fell to the ground covered in
blood. At the sight of the wild deed the boy gave a cry of alarm, but the
wretch hurried through the yard, and in passing gave the lad a blow. Zibal fell
to the ground fainting with fear. After several months in bed he returned to
his master, only to find his place filled up. Then began a hard struggle for
existence, which increased in difficulty after his marriage with Sura. Their
hard lot was borne with patience. Sura’s brother, the innkeeper of Podeni,
died; the inn passed into Zibal’s hands, and he carried on the business on his
own account.

Here
he had been for the last five years. He had saved a good bit of money and
collected good wine—a commodity that will always be worth good money. Leiba had
escaped from poverty, but they were all three sickly, himself, his wife, and
his child, all victims of malaria, and men are rough and quarrelsome in
Podeni—slanderous, scoffers, revilers, accused of vitriol throwing. And the
threats! A threat is very terrible to a character that bends easily beneath
every blow. The thought of a threat worked more upon Leiba’s nerves than did
his attacks of fever.

“Oh,
wretched Gentile!” he thought, sighing.

This
“wretched” referred to Gheorghe—wherever he might he!— a man between whom and
himself a most unpleasant affair had arisen.

Gheorghe
came to the inn one autumn morning, tired with his walk; he was just out of
hospital—so he said—and was looking for work. The innkeeper took him into his
service. But Gheorghe showed himself to be a brutal and a sullen man. He swore
continually, and muttered to himself alone in the yard. He was a bad servant,
lazy and insolent, and he stole. He threatened his mistress one day when she
was pregnant, cursing her, and striking her on the stomach. Another time he set
a dog on little Strul.

Asserted
with violence

Leiba
paid him his wages at once, and dismissed him. But Gheorghe would not go: he
asserted with violence that he had been engaged for a year. Then the innkeeper
sent to the town hall to get guards to remove him.

Gheorghe
put his hand swiftly to his breast, crying:

“Jew!”
and began to rail at his master. Unfortunately a cart full of customers arrived
at that moment. Gheorghe began to grin, saying: “What frightened you, Master
Leiba? Look, I am going now.” Then bending fiercely over the bar towards Leiba,
who drew back as far as possible, he whispered: “Expect me on Easter Eve; we’ll
crack red eggs together, Jew! You will know then what I have done to you, and T
will answer for it.”

Just
then, customers entered the inn.

“May
we meet in good health at Easter, Master Leiba!” added Gheorghe as he left.

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