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Aszszony Semeyer's brother-in-law had a large vineyard and, when it came time for the vintage, the good woman drove the children over to her brother's farm. The grapes grew in long lines up and down the hillside where the sun was strongest. White carts, drawn by white oxen, were driven by white-frocked peasants. All were decked with grape leaves, all had eaten golden grapes until they could eat no more, for the great bunches of rich, yellow grapes are free to all at vintage time. From these golden grapes is made the amber-hued "Riesling," and the children enjoyed very much helping to tread the grapes, for the wine is made in the old-fashioned way, the grapes being cast into huge vats and trod upon with the feet till the juice is entirely pressed out. The peasants dance gaily up and down upon the grapes, tossing their arms above their heads and making great pleasure of their work.
After the long, happy, sunny day the white cart of Aszszony Semeyer joined the line of carts which wound along from the vineyard, filled with gay toilers. At her brother's farm they stayed all night, for the vintage dance upon the grass under the golden glow of the harvest moon was too fair a sight to miss.
They stayed, too, for the nut-gathering. Hungarian hazel nuts are celebrated the world over, and the nutting was as much a fête as had been the vintage. This was the last frolic of the year, and the children went back to Harom Szölöhoz to work hard all winter. Banda Bela still helped the swine-herd, but Marushka was no longer a goose girl. Aszszony Semeyer had grown very fond of the little girl and spent long hours teaching her to sew and embroider. Many salt tears little Marushka shed over her Himmelbelt, or marriage bed-cover. Every girl in Hungary is supposed to have a fine linen bedspread embroidered ready to take to her home when she is married. It takes many months to make one of them, and Marushka's was to be a very elaborate one.
The linen was coarse, but spun from their own flax by Aszszony Semeyer herself. In design Marushka's Himmelbelt was wonderful. The edge was to be heavily embroidered in colours, and in one corner was Marushka's name, a space being left for the day of the wedding. In the centre was a wedding hymn which was embroidered in gay letters, and began:
"Blessed by the Saints and God above I'll be
If I do wed the man who loveth me;
Then may my home be full of peace and rest,
And I with goodly sons and daughters blest!"
Marushka worked over it for hours and grew to fairly hate the thought of marrying.
"I shall never, never marry," she sobbed. "I shall never finish this horrid old Himmelbelt and I suppose I can't be married without it."
Banda Bela sympathized with her and often played for her while she worked. Through the long winter the children learned to read and write, for all children are compelled to go to school in Hungary, and the Gypsies are the only ones who escape the school room.
Marushka learned very fast. Her mind worked far more quickly than did Banda Bela's, though he was so much older. There was nothing which Marushka did not want to know all about; earth, air, sky, water, sun, wind, people, — all were interesting to her.
"The wind, Banda Bela, whence comes it?" she would ask.
"It is the breath of God," the boy would answer.
"And the sun?"
"It is God's kindness."
"But the storms, with the flashing lightning and the terrible thunder?"
"It is the wrath of Isten, the flash of his eye, the sound of his voice."
"But I like to know what makes the things," said Marushka. "It is not enough to say that everything is God. I know He is back of everything. Aszszony Semeyer told me that, but I want to know the how of what He does."
"I think we cannot always do just what we like," said Banda Bela calmly. "I have found that out many times, so it is best not to fret about things but to live each day by itself." At this philosophy Marushka pouted.
One afternoon in the summer the children asked for permission to go to the woods, and Aszszony Semeyer answered them:
"Yes, my pigeons, go; the sky is fair and you have both been good children of late, — go, but return early."
They had a happy afternoon playing together upon the hills which were so blue with forget-me-nots that one could hardly see where the hilltops met the sky. Marushka made a wreath of them and Banda Bela crowned her, twining long festoons of the flowers around her neck and waist, until she looked like a little flower fairy. They wandered homeward as the sun was setting, past the great house on the hill, and Maruskha said:
"I wonder if the High-Born Baron and his gracious lady will soon be coming home? In the village they say that they always come at this time of the year. Do you remember how beautiful the High-Born Baroness looked at Irma's wedding?"
"She was beautiful and kind, and sang like a nightingale," said Banda Bela. "Come, Marushka, we must hurry, or Aszszony Semeyer will scold us for being late!"
As they neared the village they heard a noise and a strange scene met their gaze! A yoke of white oxen blocked the way; several black and brown cattle had slipped their halters and were running aimlessly about tossing their horns; seventeen hairy pigs ran hither and thither, squealing loudly, and all the geese in town seemed to be turned loose, flapping their wings and squawking at the top of their voices. Children were dashing around, shouting and screaming, in their efforts to catch the different animals, while the grown people, scarcely less disturbed, tried in vain to silence the din.
"They are frightened by the machine of the High-Born Baron, Marushka," said Banda Bela. "See, there it is at the end of the street. I have seen these queer cars in Buda-Pest, but none has ever been in this little village before, so it is no wonder that everyone is afraid. There, the men have the cattle quiet, but the geese and the pigs are as bad as ever."
"Let us run and lead them out, Banda Bela," cried Marushka. "You can make the pigs follow you and I can quiet the geese. It is too bad to have the homecoming of their High-Born Graciousnesses spoiled by these stupids!" Marushka dashed into the throng of geese calling to them in soft little tones. They recognized her at once and stopped their fluttering as she called them by the names she had given them when she was goose girl and they all flocked about her. Then she sang a queer little crooning song, and they followed her down the street as she walked toward the goose green, not knowing how else to get them out of the way.
Banda Bela meantime was having an amusing time with his friends the pigs. They were all squealing so loudly that they could scarcely hear his voice, so he bethought himself of his music and began to play. It was but a few moments before the piggies heard and stopped to listen. Banda Bela had played much when he was watching the pigs on the moor, and his violin told them of the fair green meadow where they found such good things to eat, and of the river's brink with its great pools of black slime in which to wallow. They stopped their mad dashing about and gathered around the boy, and he, too, turned and led them from the village.
It was a funny sight, this village procession. First came Marushka in her little peasant's costume, decked with her wreath and garlands of forget-me-nots, and followed by her snow-white geese. Next, Banda Bela, playing his violin and escorting his pigs, while last of all came the motor car of the High-Born Baron, the Baron looking amused, the Baroness in spasms of laughter.
"Oh, Léon," she cried. "Could our friends who drive on the Os Budavara1 see us now! Such a procession! That child who leads is the most beautiful little creature and so unconscious, and the boy's playing is wonderful."
"First came Marushka"
"They must be the Gypsy children Aszszony Semeyer adopted. We saw them when we were here last year," replied her husband. "What a story this would make for the club! We must give these children a florin for their timely aid."
But the children, unconscious of this pleasant prospect, led their respective friends back into the village by another way, so that it was not until the next day that the "High-Born" ones had a chance to see them, and this time in an even more exciting adventure than that of the village procession. It was the motor car again which caused the trouble.
Marushka and Banda Bela had been sent on an errand to a farm not far from the village and were walking homeward in the twilight. Down the road came a peasant's cart just as from the opposite direction came the "honk-honk" of the Baron's motor. Such a sight had never appeared to the horses before in all their lives. They reared up on their hind legs, pawing the air wildly as the driver tried to turn them aside to let the motor pass. A woman and a baby sat in the cart, and, as the horses became unmanageable and overturned the cart into the ditch, the woman was thrown out and the baby rolled from her arms right in front of the motor. The mechanician had tried to stop his car, but there was something wrong with the brake and he could not stop all at once. Marushka saw the baby. If there was one thing she loved more than another it was a baby. She saw its danger and in a second she dashed across the road, snatched up the little one and ran up the other side of the road just as the motor passed over the spot where the baby had fallen.
"Marushka," cried Banda Bela as he ran around the motor. "Are you hurt?"
"Brave child!" cried the Baron, who sprang from his car and hurried to the group of frightened peasants. "Are you injured?"
"Not at all, Most Noble Baron," said Marushka, not forgetting to make her courtesy, though it was not easy with the baby in her arms.
The child's mother had by this time picked herself out of the ditch and rushed over to where Maruskha stood, the baby still in her arms and cooing delightedly as he looked into the child's sweet face, his tiny hand clutching the silver medal which always hung about Marushka's neck. The mother snatched the baby to her breast and, seating herself by the roadside, she felt all over its little body to see if it was hurt.
"You have this brave little girl to thank that your baby was not killed," said the Baron. The woman turned to Marushka.
"I thank you for — " she began, stopped abruptly, and then stared at the little girl with an expression of amazement. "Child, who are you?" she demanded.
"Marushka," said the little girl simply. The woman put her hand to her head.
"It is her image," she muttered. "Her very self!"
The Baroness had alighted from the motor and came up in time to hear the woman's words.
"Whose image?" she demanded sharply.
The woman changed colour and put her baby down on the grass.
"The little girl looks like a child I saw in America," she stammered, her face flushing.
"Was she an American child?" demanded the Baroness.
"Oh, yes, Your Graciousness," said the woman hastily. "Of course, she was an American child."
"Now I know that you are speaking falsely," said the Baroness. "This little one looks like no American child who was ever born. Léon," turning to her husband, "is this one of your peasants?" Then she added in a tone too low to be heard by anyone but her husband, "I know that she can tell something about this little girl. Question her."
The Baron turned to the woman and said:
"This little girl saved your baby's life. Should you not do her some kindness?"
"What could I do for her, Your High-Born Graciousness?" the woman asked.
"That I leave to your good heart." The Baron had not dwelt upon his estates and managed his peasants for years without knowing peasant character. Threats would not move this woman, that he saw in a moment.
"She is a Gypsy child," the woman said sullenly.
Banda Bela spoke suddenly, for he had come close and heard what was said.
"That she is not! She is Magyar. Deserted by the roadside, she was cared for by Gypsy folk. Does she look like a Gypsy? Would a Gypsy child wear a Christian medal upon her breast?" The boy's tone was sharp. Marushka heard nothing. She was playing with the baby.
The woman looked from Marushka to the baby, then at the Baron, hesitating. "Let me see your pretty medal, child," she said at length, and Marushka untied the string and put the medal in the woman's hand.
"I used to think it was my mother, but now I know it is Our Lady," said Marushka gently. The woman looked at it for a moment, then gave it back to the little girl and stood for a moment thinking.
"High-Born Baron," she said at last, "I will speak. Those it might harm are dead. The little girl who saved my baby I will gladly serve, but I will speak alone to the ears of the Baron and his gracious lady."
"Very well," said the Baron as he led the woman aside.
"Škultéty Yda is my name, Your Graciousness," she said. "I was foster-sister to a high-born lady in the Province in which lies Buda-Pest. I loved my mistress and after her marriage I went with her to the home of her husband, a country place on the Danube. There I met Hödza Ludevit, who wished to marry me and take me to America, for which he had long saved the money. He hated all nobles and most of all the High-Born Count, because the Count had once struck him with his riding whip. Then the Countess' little daughter came and I loved her so dearly that I said that I would never part from her. Ludevit waited for me two years, then he grew angry and said, 'To America I will go with or without you.' Then he stole the little baby and sent me word that he would return her only on condition that I go at once to America with him. To save the little golden-haired baby I followed him beyond the sea to America. He swore to me that he had returned little Marushka to her parents.
"The Count traced us to America thinking we might have taken the child with us, and then I learned that the baby had never been sent home. My wicked husband had left it by the roadside and what had become of it no one knew. It turned my heart toward my husband into stone. Now he is dead and I have brought my own baby home, but my family are all dead and I have no place to go. These people were kind to me on the ship, so I came to them, hoping to find work to care for my baby, since all my money was spent in the coming home. This little girl who saved my baby I know to be the daughter of my dear mistress." She stopped.
"How do you know it?" demanded the Baroness.
"Your High-Born Graciousness, she is her image. There is the same corn-coloured hair, the same blue eyes, the same flushed cheek, the same proud mouth, the same sweet voice."
"What was the name of your lady?" interrupted the baroness, who had been looking fixedly at Marushka, knitting her brows. "The child has always reminded me of someone; who it is I cannot think."
"The foster sister whom I loved was the Countess Maria Andrássy."
"I see it," cried the Baroness. "The child is her image, Léon. I have her picture at the castle. You will see at once the resemblance. I have not seen Maria since we left school. Her husband we see often at Court. I had heard that Maria had lost her child and that since she had never left her country home. I supposed the child was dead. This little Marushka must be Maria Andrássy."
"We must have proofs," said the Baron.
"Behold the medal upon the child's neck," said Yda. "It is one her mother placed there. I myself scratched with a needle the child's initials 'M. A.' the same as her mother's. The letters are still there; and if that is not enough there is on the child's neck the same red mark as when she was born. It is up under her hair and her mother would know it at once."
"The only way is for her mother to see her and she will know. This Gypsy boy may be able to supply some missing links. We shall ask him," said the Baron. When Banda Bela was called he told simply all that he knew about Marushka and all that old Jarnik had told him.
"There is no harm coming to her, is there?" he asked anxiously, and the Baroness said kindly:
"No, my boy, no harm at all, and perhaps much good, for we think that we have found her people." Banda Bela's face clouded. "That would make you sad?" she asked.
"Yes and no, Your Graciousness," he answered. "It would take my heart away to lose Marushka for whom I have cared these years as my sister, but I know so well the sadness of having no mother. If she can find her mother, I shall rejoice."
"Something good shall be found for you, too, my lad." The Baroness smiled at him, but he replied simply:
"I thank Your High-Born Graciousness. I shall still have my music."
The Baroness flashed a quick glance at him. "I understand you, boy; nothing can take that away from one who loves it. Now take the little one home, and to-morrow we shall come to see Aszszony Semeyer about her. In the meantime, say not one word to the little girl for fear she be disappointed if we have made a mistake."
"Yes, Your High-Born Graciousness," and Banda Bela led Marushka away, playing as they went down the hill the little song of his father.
"The hills are so blue,
The sun so warm,
The wind of the moor so soft and so kind!
Oh, the eyes of my mother,
The warmth of her breast,
The breath of her kiss on my cheek, alas!"
1 Celebrated drive in Buda-Pest.