Civic guard

Every time I hear about an iminent war I remember with respect and pride from the time when I was one of the brave defenders of Independece. At the time of the last Oriental conflagration I served in the civic guard – Intelligent Bayonet – in the company of the Armenian slum. Heroic times ! I have beautiful memories of you…

civic guard

My captain Joe Tomcat, once sergeant to the firefighters, was a solid man who was then on the turn cabman, bartender, building contractor, servants broker, police spy, bully and now, finally, he had declared himself openly on the side of the government. He was a profound propagandist – the fear of bartenders, cabmen, fiddlers and others who were dropping in his hand in his moments of madness against the upstarts. But otherwise he was a pleasant man, smart and cheerful.

When he first came to call me in the guard was drunk. I’ve known him for a long time – who did not know Mr. Tomcat in the slum ?  – I say:

“Brother Joe, please spare me; I have a weak body.”

“Phew ! Russian grudge !… It’s not possible, uncle Yankoo…  that is… it can be if I put a man in your place.”

“That put a man in place.”

“Then take out the ruble…” and then he cursed the upstarts terribly.

I gave it to him and Joe left, cradling his legs and shouting:

“Live ours, Mr. Yankoo !” and then he cursed the upstarts terribly.

About eight days later, Mr. Joe searched me again, and again he took my coin and again “Live…” and curses. In about five days another ruble; then evry four days he came regularly. But all the tyranny must have an end. I decided to revolt. When captain Tomkat comes, he says:

“Tomorrow you have service…”

“Uncle Joe”, I say, “I have or I do not – I don’t know – but the ruble I know I do not have, and I will not even have it from now on. It’s over !”

“Then… how ?”

“Like this !”

“Then I’ll put you in custody !”

“To please !”

“So, you do not want to give the ruble ?”

“I can’t.”

“Well…”

guard

And he went angry, insulting the boyars horribly. The next morning I heard the trumpet, I dressed myself fast and went to the battalion. They gave me an old rifle clanging from all its sides when I was walking. I closed my belt over the coat and walked through the sleet with the company. A police commissioner led us to the Mogosoaia Bridge – it was the Epiphany parade.

Later when the captain came – he who believed me to be unable to hold a gun in my hand -, he stayed incredible:

“Bravo, Mr. Yankoo ! So, you fooled me ?…  I do not mind ! Live ours ! … F**k the boyars !

Atfer he walked for a while in front of the company he came back to me, pulled me aside and told me discreetly to my ear:

“Mr. Yankoo, it’s not good for you to sit between these idiots… Give me  half a ruble and go home.”

“I have no penny , uncle Joe !” I said loudly, so the ladies who cluttered on the sidewalk could hear me.

But the captain swelled like a turkey,  and to cover my voice he screamed:

“Company… straight !”

At that moment some bangs from the top of the street are heard. What was ? Someone had caught a stray dog and attached an empty can to its tail. This was for the guard would  jump the dog with the tambourine, according to an old custom of this public institution.

Being held between the two ranks of brave guards who had behind them the wall of the crowd, distraught by boooing and threats of the youngsters the poor animal fleeing making mad jumps and barking infernal, while the audience was very amused. The dog passed before us like chimera. Later, there was still a bit of humor in the Theatre Square.

We were an elite company. I was standin across the road from Cretulescu, close to the palace, between two very fat Armenians. One of them was a scarf seller and the other was a maker of ground coffee and other spices in Caimata. The latter had rather put his coat over the apron he covered himself when mashing coffee, and the apron was with a palm longer than the lower edge of the coat that had shortened a bit because of the centurion closed under the belly.

The coffee maker was cold and his nose flowed enourmously and, being a clean man like all the Armenians, he asked me to take his rifle from time to time: he leaned hard, picked up his apron and wiped his nose. After he took his rifle back, he told me:

“T’nks… I uaz lucky: if not f’got the apron on me, then what did my nose clean with ?”

Since then, I have never drank coffee with cream !

guard 2

Finally, the official clarences return to the palace… We still cried ‘Hurray !‘ when the gala squadron passed before us. Proud gendarmes with their raised swords looked at our company with a smile so weird that I leaned my eyes to the ground and since then I promised myself to make all the sacrifices to save me from such tight corner in future. I ran to Mr. Tomkat and after a lot of talks we to an agreement: two rubles per month, and he frees me from the guard. I gave him a ruble before and then one evry fifteen days.

I have regularly served my homeland to the full gratitude of my commander until the civic guard was suppressed. And the proof that I was a brave guard is that the captain came to me once and, being very well willing, said to me:

“Mr. Yankoo, I came to tell you that our guard now receives decorations for special merits in the defending of Independence; to know that I’ll put you down on the list.”

I immediately understood Tomkat’s intention, so I told him that I had no claim… I fought just for the sake of the liberals. But Mr. Joe answered:

“Live ours, Mr. Yankoo ! F**k the boyars ! Not possible ! To give decorations to all idiots and vagabonds and just not to give you ! It’s not good ! I know I have to write you down on the list !”

“Don’t write me down on the list that I don’t know how much it costs… and now I’m a little poor.”

“How much do you think it costs ? Almost nothing ! We strive for you.”

He asked me half a pol, then I gave him a ruble and at the end we agreed to a ruble and a half. He collected my money and wrote me on the file. A few days after the guard was suppressed I met Mr. Tomkat – now he was a revenue officer and was very cheerful. I asked him in jest:

“Uncle Joe, what’s new about my decoration ?”

“Er… which decoration?…”

“That… don’t you remember ?… a ruble and a half…”

“Hell knows, Mr. Yankoo, what the leaders did, that I sent them the lists; but now there is such a confusion with the reception of weapons ! It is said that a lot of them have been stolen…”

“It’s quite possible, uncle Joe; in wartime many weapons disappear…”

“Maybe in other companies there were abuses; but I don’t think they were in our company… Well ! Doesn’t matter… Live ours, Mr. Yankoo !… F**k the boyars !”

So because of a negligent leadership I was left without decoration, and that after I fought so much ! That’s not right ! I’m sure Sarchiz, the Armenian coffee maker, got one. I went to see him. I found him with his apron and the old cold. He had been mixed coffe with rio to make mocha. From word to word, trying to hide the feeling of envy, I told him:

“How did  you get decoration, brother Sarchiz, and I did not ? I really paid before.”

“So it uaz de fair… uen he bringz me de decoration den I pay… He brogd me de decoration and I paid.”

“So then… ?” I told him, being cleared now.

“Dring a vresh coffee ?… to megk you a cream…”

“No, thanks, uncle Sarchiz; I don’t want coffee with cream anymore…”

I. L. Caragiale, Baioneta inteligenta [Garda civica]

published in “Epoca”, 1897

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