Excerpt: Katrina, Sin of Love (2)
Evening had fallen. The wind was whispering gently through the trees. It was somewhat cooler. Madam Emilia and Mister Aristide came down from their quarters onto the terrace, where they found Anton and Ovidiu slouching on the sofas.
– What are you boys doing here; didn’t you take an afternoon nap? Mister Aristide asked them.
– What are we to do, sir? Ovidiu replied, we’re enjoying the fresh air and talk a little, like men do.
– Mother, father, let’s take the carriage and go for a ride into the village… we might also take a swim in the Danube.
– Dear Lord! Exclaimed Madam Emilia, what are you thinking, son? We’re not the same age! What would the peasants say when they’ll see us all bathing together? You’re not in your right mind, my child!
– But we’re still going, right, Ovidiu?
– What can I say, Anton? Let’s go, then, it will be dark soon and I won’t go into the water by night, ‘cause I’m afraid…
– Well, if you do go, then stop by Marin’s house and talk to his daughter, Katrina, because I gave her some laundry to wash and she hasn’t brought it back yet. I forgot to tell you: from Saturday on we have guests.
– Mother, who on Earth travels on this heat?
– Necshulescu, the Prefect, with his wife, Dora, and his daughter, Anca. They will come to spend some time with us.
– That’s a pretty young thing, said Ovidiu. Do you know Anca?
– Haven’t had the pleasure, yet, but, as it turns out, I guess I’m going to have to, from Saturday onwards, replied Anton.
– Stop talking like that about her. I’d very much like to make Anca my daughter-in-law!
– Emilia, commented Mister Aristide pointing at his son, this lad has barely any hair on his face and you already want to see him married? For God’s sake, let the boy turn at least twenty five, and then we’ll see.
– You keep your opinions to yourself, old fool. I don’t want to marry him right away, it’s only an engagement!
– Mother, don’t I have any say in this matter? Is it everything already said and done over my head? You know what? Why don’t you get engaged to this girl? I’ve got other things on my mind right now! Let’s go, Ovidiu, I can’t even breathe in this place!
Anton and Ovidiu walked down the stairs of the terrace and went towards the garden, where Anton picked up a rose as red as a flame, and concealed it under his waistcoat. Then they left through the large gate, walking as if they were taking a casual stroll. Only there was nothing casual about it for Anton, who, on his way, began to sweat and shake like a shy little boy, at the mere thought of seeing Katrina again. He thought of her with such tenderness in his heart, that he could cry of spite that she’s not blueblooded like him, so he could marry her, to love her so passionately, just like he imagined he would, in his hours alone. The simple uttering of her name made his lips tremble with love and pleasure. On their way, they walked in silence, ach with his own thoughts. Suddenly, Ovidiu stopped and asked him:
– Well, Anton, are you really in love? Who did you get that red rose for?
– I don’t know what to tell you, my knees turn to butter whenever I hear her name, and now I’m all sweaty and excited at the thought of seeing her again.
– Why, you silly fool, you’re crazy, you know that? How can you fall in love with some peasant girl? What would your parents say?
– It’s not like I’m getting married tomorrow! Maybe I’ll get over it once I’m in Vienna… I don’t know… Slowly, they arrived near Katrina’s house, so they called at the gate.
– Hello, is anybody home? M’am Saveta, Katrina!
– Stop hollering, young boyar, I heard you, said Saveta, Katrina’s mother.
– Good evening, M’am Saveta, how are you? Anton asked with a hesitant voice…
– Why, sir, I was in the kitchen with Katrina; her father should be home any minute, and we were putting dinner together, for he must be hungry…
– Can Katrina come out a little? I’ve got something to talk to her about.
– What have you got to talk to me about, young boyar? Katrina asked, coming out of the house. She was wearing a shirt under which her breasts would bob up like two ripen apples.
– Katrina, come a little closer, I want to give you something, said Anton. Meanwhile, Ovidiu was stunned with wonder at seeing Katrina’s natural splendor.
– I’m coming, young boyar, it’s not like you’d bite me… Katrina approached the two young men and opened the gate.
Anton took out the rose from under his waistcoat and gave it to her, all trembling with emotion. Their hands touched for a moment, and both of them blushed instantly.
– I brought you this flower as proof of my eternal love for you, said Anton, fumbling for his words and blushing even harder.
His palms were sweating horribly and he didn’t know what to do with his hands; he kept wringing them like dough, stuffing them in the pockets of his trousers, and he kept taking out his handkerchief and wiping off his sweat…
They locked their gaze and they couldn’t take their eyes off each other…
– What did you want to tell me, young boyar? Katrina barely broke the silence between them in a faint voice…
Anton shook away the spell that had bewitched him and answered mildly:
– My mother sent me to ask you if you washed that laundry of ours…
– I did, this afternoon, when you came to the Danube, and I set them to dry off, look, there they are, in the yard. I’ll fetch them to the manor tomorrow.
Anton caressed her cheek and then took his hand to his lips, kissing it…
– Katrina, you’re as fair as a princess! Would you like to come with us for a swim?
– Young boyar, I’m not going out so late in the day, my mother won’t let me… And then, if my father hears of me going out to swim with you two, I’ll catch hell!
– Let the girl be, Anton, it’s not suitable for her to go swimming now, almost by night, with two men like ourselves, and the whole village to see that.
– You’re right, Ovidiu, but I just can’t let her go. Come, at least, for a walk with us by the water side!
– I can’t, young boyar, I told you; my father should be home any minute and…
A shadow appeared out of nowhere behind the young men and said:
– Good evening, young boyars.
It was Old Marin, the stableman.
– What are you doing here at this tardy hour, sirs?
– Ah… we came by to bring a message from my mother, said Anton, flummoxed.
– And I reckon you did, said Old Marin, firmly.
– Yes, and now we have to leave, Old Marin, because we are late for supper and we’ll catch some hell.
Anton and Ovidiu said good bye to Katrina and to her father, then they turned on their way.
– And we didn’t go swimming, said Ovidiu pensive.
– Shut up, I didn’t even feel like swimming. I would never have parted with her, not in a million years; I’d have put my arms around her waist and kissed her breath away. Dear God, have you seen how beautiful she is?
– I’ve seen, my boy, that you kind of lost your senses in front of her. You ought to get those senses back, or else, if Madam Emilia were to find out about this, you’ll be in big trouble!
– So what, if my mother finds out? I wish the whole world finds out how much I like this girl and how much I care about her!
– Anton, we’re getting closer to your home, you’d better get a grip on yourself, so your parents don’t notice anything.
Anton said nothing and began to slowly mutter a Viennese waltz and to dance with his own shadow, elongated by the full moon, guardian of that magic night. He was thinking about her – she will come to the manor the next day to bring the laundry. What would he tell her tomorrow? Would he be as tense as he was tonight, or would he dare to steal a kiss from her? That remains to be seen…
Night had fallen. Old Marin and M’am Saveta went inside their home. Katrina stood a while longer out in the yard, to look at the full moon surrounded by stars scattered on the firmament, and to dream away, holding the red rose close to her chest. Does Anton really love her, as he said, or is he merely leading her on, just to have fun with her for this one hot summer? She looked at the sky and saw his blue eyes mirroring hers. Were they really honest, or were they lying with the easiness of his 20 years of age? She liked him very much, and if she gave it a little thought, she could even admit that she loved him. She liked his walk, a little wobbled; she loved his slender figure and his milkywhite face bordered by raven-black curls. She loved that cunning, spoiled-child smile, and his full lips that would always pout whenever he spoke… God, how much she would have loved to be with him right now, to caress his hair, his face, his body… Oh, what sinful thoughts! She must go to church for a confession. No more of these dirty fantasies… And she went inside right away.
– Katrina, my girl, said her mother, what took you so long in the yard? Come and eat, the dinner is cold.
– I chilled a little, mother, there’s an evening breeze.
– Come and eat, girl, I’m almost finished, said her father. Have you washed Madam Emilia’s laundry? She’s expecting guests this Saturday.
– Yes, father, I did, and I’ll take it to the manor tomorrow morning.
– Madam Emilia told me she’ll have you prepare the guest rooms.
– I’ll prepare them, if I have to, dear father.
– And who will help me tomorrow in the yard, with the cow and the pig, I’m old and my back is killing me.
– You’ll have to manage by yourself, mother, for just one day, it’s not the end of the world.
– I don’t really like it that you go to the manor so often. If I’m not mistaking, boyar Anton kind of fancies you, doesn’t he?
– Oh, father, I’m not going to mind anything he says, God forbids!
– Katrina, let’s clear the table and get to bed, tomorrow is a hard day for us.
– Right away, mother, just one more bite and I’m done.
They stood up, gave thanks to God for the meal of that evening, and then they cleared the table.
– I’m going to bed, mother, said Katrina, and she went into a tiny room, clean and neat, which was her sanctuary. Every night she combed her hair slowly, in front of the small mirror on the wall, thinking about the forbidden love she had for the son of their boyar, and then she would feverishly pray the Lord to forgive her for such a great sin. She stood a while longer with her eyes open, lying on the narrow straw bed. She thought with tenderness of the day to come, when she had to go to the manor, and she hoped she would see Anton. Then, being tired, she fell into a deep, dreamless slumber…
Katrina woke up before dawn, at the first call of the rooster, and she looked out the window. It was still dark outside; a thick blanket of mist was floating over the Danube, spreading onto the village as well. She walked out in the yard and quickly gathered the laundry so that it didn’t moisten too much, and then folded it carefully. Then she washed herself and dressed up really nice, as if she was going to the village dance.
Meanwhile, her parents woke up as well. They set the table with the leftovers from last night’s supper, and ate in silence. Only after they were done with breakfast, did Old Marin look up and stared straight at Katrina:
– What are you doing, dear daughter, did you dress up for a party? You’re not going over there for a ball; you’re going to work…
M’am Saveta jumped up from her seat and stood by Katrina:
– Let the girl be, Marin, she knows what she’s doing. She can’t go to the manor in everyday clothes. There are good folks over there; you never know who she might make acquaintance with. Do you want them to say we’re some dirty peasants? Can’t you see how fair and beautiful our daughter is? Let her be!
– We have to know our place, Saveta, we’re peasants, indeed, and we’re not a match with the boyars!
– You’re right, father, it’s true, but mother is also right. I can’t go to the manor with my everyday rags. They’d laugh at me. You’d better hurry and get dressed, it will be dawn soon. In the mean time, I’ll go call on Maria, next door, to have her help me at work, because there are many rooms at the manor.
And she ran out of the house at once, so her father wouldn’t stall her with a discussion she didn’t quite enjoy… She ran to the fence and hollered her lungs out:
– Maria, wake up and get dressed at once! The dawn will break soon and there’s a long way to the boyars manor.
After a while, Maria showed up in the doorframe, her eyes still sleepy, stretching her arms way up towards the sky:
– Anon, it’s not the barbarian invasions, girl! The roosters haven’t sung twice yet, and you hurry up like a maiden on her wedding day. The boyars are barely turning over on the other side and still dream their morning dreams, and you want to wake them up at the crack of dawn? Come on, I’ll wash up in a minute and get dressed at once!
Katrina went back inside and strutted here and there, because she couldn’t find her place. She arranged Madam Emilia’s laundry; she went to her room and brushed her rebel hair that would not un-frizzle, she scolded her mother for not going faster to feed the livestock, she hurried her father, who, like any old man, moved rather slow… And so went another quarter of an hour, until she heard the call outside:
– Katrina, I’m ready! Maria yelled over the fence. Come on, I don’t want to spend too much time at the manor; I’ve got so much to do at home, too…
– Here we go, said Katrina, casting one last glance into the tiny mirror on the wall, and then grabbing the wicker basket with the laundry.
– Come on, father, let’s go already, or we’ll be late!
They went out the gate, and then the three of them walked up on the narrow dirt road. The sun was rising and the mists were scattering away from the village. Only now did the girls see each other better, and checked each other out, head to toe.
– Katrina, you’re mighty well dressed, no doubt about that, said Maria, upset. Why didn’t you tell me to put on my best outfit, now look at me!
Maria was a pretty girl, tall and lean, with a milkywhite face. In contrast, she had long, ebony hair. The poor girl was wearing a worn-out skirt and a blouse that barely hang on her beautiful shoulders.
– Maria, no one’s looking at you over there, but I have to tell you a secret. Good thing that father is well behind us. You swear on your holiest that you won’t tell a soul what I’m going to tell you now.
– I swear to God! What the devil, haven’t we been friends since childhood?
– Shut up, don’t mention the devil, you scare me!
– Now that you started, carry on!
– Maria, you know, yesterday I went to the river to wash the laundry Madam Emilia gave me and, what do you know? Boyar Anton, her son, came over there and invited me for a swim; well he wooed me, no more, no less! Then, in the evening, he showed up at our door and brought me a rosebud, “as proof of his eternal love”, he said. Well, now, he says he’s in love with me head over heels.
– And you believed him? Don’t you know how these rich boys are? They come to you, all sugar and honey, they trick you to sleep with them, and then you are with child! And after that, they never admit it; they can even chase you out of the village, with your entire family.
– Ah, come on, it’s not as bad as it seems. Anton is a decent guy, he’s well-behaved, and he’s got a proper education, I don’t believe he would do such a thing. And then, I know how to stay out of trouble, I’m not fifteen anymore.
– You’re not fifteen, but you’re only seventeen, said Maria quite upset, and you’re still a child. You believe everything anyone tells you and everybody seems nice to you and well-behaved, but it’s not like that at all. Have you ever heard of a boyar in love with a poor girl and then marry her, nonetheless? You tell me!
– I can’t argue with that, said Katrina bitterly, but I like him a lot and I believe I can set him straight. And then, he’s off to Vienna in the fall, for three years, so we’ll only write to each other, there’s no danger in that!
– Lots of things can happen until fall, Maria said with a foreseeing tone.
– Well, you’re right, Maria, but I hope we’ll be quite all right by then.
And so, chatting away the road they approached the manor.
– Come, father, hurry up, said Katrina, opening the wide gates of the garden.
– Here I am, my daughter, I’m an old man; I can’t trot about like you two. I remained behind to leave you two to talk like girls. I know you’re shy in front of me…
Old Marin caught up with the girls and the three of them entered through the tall garden gate, locking it behind them. Once in the garden, they were smitten by the fragrance of the dew-sprinkled roses. Maria kept marveling at the smell and the colors of the flowers. Old Marin went towards the stables, and the girls knocked at the back door, which led into the kitchen. Auntie Ana, the cook, hurried to open the door:
– Welcome, my beautiful girls, my dear precious little helpers! Come on, the day is short for how much work there is to be done and we also have to prepare the meals for the masters.
– Happy to see you, Auntie Ana, said Katrina. Here, I’ve brought Maria along, to help us finish the work faster.
Maria nodded politely, like a well-behaved girl that she was.
– Come, Auntie, give us chores, hurried Katrina.
– Be still, Katrina, the masters aren’t even awake. Let’s eat something so we can have strength for today’s work.
They sat around the large table, on which all kinds of food were available and ate till they were full.
– Well, what is our first chore, now? Maria asked shyly…
– Now we clean up the kitchen, we wash the pans, we prepare the food, and only then do we get into the rooms.
The girls – hard-working as always – started with the kitchen chores, and, by nine o’clock, everything was ready. They sat down to rest for a little while and, just then, the large door towards the hallway opened with a screech, and Madam Emilia entered, lazily stretching, the sleep still on her eyelashes.
– Ana, is coffee and tea ready for breakfast? Pour me a cup of coffee quickly; I’m so sleepy in this heat!
– Right away, Madam!
– Ah, Katrina, you’re here, my dear girl! Did you bring the laundry, let me see!
– I did, Madam… and she took out the wicker basket.
– How wonderful, my girl, you’re so hard-working! Nobody in the entire village washes the laundry better than you.
As she lifted her eyes from the laundry, she noticed Maria…
– And who might this girl be?
– She’s Maria, my best friend. I asked her to come and help me with the tidying up, said Katrina.
– Very well, very well, then what are you sitting here for? Get to work!
And she began telling the girls what were their chores and in which order to prepare the rooms…
The girls went upstairs and began tidying up, each in a different room. As she was focused on her work, Katrina heard the door of the room slowly open. Someone tried to sneak in without being heard. She carried on with her work, pretending not to see or hear anything, and, suddenly, she felt chained into an embrace and kissed on her neck. For a moment, a warm wave went through her and she felt weak, wanting to abandon herself to the strong arms that had gotten hold of her… Then she remembered Maria’s words and she sprang out of the embrace, turning towards Anton – because he was the culprit – and instinctively slapping him hard over his face. Caught unawares, Anton didn’t have the time to defend himself, so he turned all red in the face at such offense…
– Katrina, is this how you receive me, your humble slave? I, who worship you and feel an endless love towards you, I, who cannot sleep at nights without dreaming of you like a fairy? Beauty of my heart, why did you punish me so badly?
– Because you can’t help yourself. You want to win me no matter what, to make me fall in love with you, take advantage of me and then… abandon me… that’s why!
– Who put these nonsensical thoughts into your head, my dear girl, my fair sweetheart…? I would never behave so mean to you, I would never leave you for another girl, for nothing and nobody in the world! You’re the light of my life, the sun that warms me during the day, you’re the moon watching over me at night, you’re the air that I breathe, you’re the morning dew that sprinkles the roses in the garden and doesn’t let them dry out in this drought! You are, and always will be, my whole world from now on!
– Maria told me you’d try to woo me with crafty words that you learned from books, and I wouldn’t believe her. But now I do, and I’m getting more and more afraid of you…
While they were having this heated discussion, Anton kept chasing Katrina around the room, wanting to embrace her, but she would move away from him into each available corner… She finally reached the door and out she ran as fast as she could, down the stairs…
– Ah, the temptress… she got away again! Anton said with spite.
Once she reached the large hallway at the main entrance, Katrina hollered desperately at Maria, who was downstairs in one of the rooms.
– Maria, Maria, where are you? Come quickly in the lobby!
– Here I am, let me wipe my hands!
At the same time, Mister Aristide, Madam Emilia and Ovidiu – all three of them – came through the main door and asked at once:
– What’s going on? Where’s the fire?
– Oh, it’s nothing serious, said Katrina with a guilty look. A little mouse crept over my feet and I got really scared and… I ran out of the room.
Madam Emilia, truly shocked that her beautiful house is also a home for such creatures, began yelling at Ion, the houseboy.
– Ion, Ion, move your lazy feet and come here at once!
Meanwhile, she was gesturing strangely to her husband, who didn’t understand a thing of her cabbalistic signs. After five minutes of chaos, finally, Ion showed up for duty. He was a peasant boy, meager, ugly and thin as a rack.
– Yes, Madam, here I am! What is your bidding? And he bowed awfully official in front of the boyars, very calm, as if nothing was going on.
– My bidding is to go at once, damn it, and bring the rat poison and have Katrina show you where to put it, for we have guests coming in this Saturday and I don’t want unpleasant surprises for them!
– Here I go, Madam, right away! Ion turned around and went to fetch the poison.
Katrina tried to mend things and apologized for wreaking havoc, and then said that there’s no need to hurry, that it would be better if they finished preparing the rooms first, and then have Ion spread the poison, so that they avoid getting poisoned themselves. And she kept insisting until she convinced Madam Emilia to allow her to mind her work in peace, and only after she was done to send Ion with the poison. It wasn’t all for nothing: Anton didn’t have the time to leave the room, and if someone were to see him there, the question would arise – and rightly so – what was he doing in the same room Katrina had just come out of? She went back upstairs quietly and entered the room so boldly that everybody wondered whether or not she merely thought she’d seen the mouse. She closed the door behind her and stood in front of it, looking straight into Anton’s eyes.
– If you ever come onto me like that from now on, I’ll tell your parents and it won’t be very nice for you…
Hearing such a cold threat, Anton tried to soften her tension. He started to walk about the room, his hands to his back, trying to find the best arguments for his behavior. He stopped, very polite and said in a low voice:
– What can I do, my dear Katrina, if, whenever I see you, I can’t help myself from wanting to embrace you and kiss you?
– Listen, young boyar, in Bucharest, where you went to school, couldn’t you find yourself a girl of your rank, I mean a rich girl, to love and to cherish?
– I found none, Katrina, they are all such boring creatures, you can’t talk anything with them except the latest fashion in Paris, how the weather is like and how or which politician struck gold or made a fortune, or else they are as quiet as a mouse, and they look at you with wide, wet eyes, like they were cattle. Don’t you understand that you are a special person for me, entirely different than any other girl I have met so far?
– But what can you talk about with me, Anton, to be of any interest to you? I only studied until fourth grade, I can barely read and write.
– I could teach you many things that you will find useful later in life. I could give you books to read, Literature, History, Geography. It wouldn’t hurt you to read Eminescu, Alecsandri, Creangă and many others you can understand, and then I’d explain to you more what each author wanted to say… But, in order to do that, we’d have to see each other more often, I mean, every day.
– Then here’s a deal: I promise to read and learn everything you want to teach me, and you promise not to kiss me… so often…
– So be it, Katrina…
And he came close to her, kissed her lips in a flash, and out the door he went, before she could even try to fight back.