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Banda Bela slept heavily through the night. He dreamed in a confused way that he heard the Gypsies talking and one of them said, "She brings ill luck. Men ask of her white locks. The boy is well enough, though one more to feed. But the other brings ill fortune to the band." Another said, "No ill will come to them." Then he dreamed no more, but slept a dead and heavy sleep. He was awakened by a hand upon his shoulder. Some one shook him and he started to his feet to see the shepherd bending over him.
"What is it?" asked Banda Bela.
"Where is your camp and where is the little girl?" demanded the shepherd.
Banda Bela looked around him in amazement. Of the Gypsy camp there was not a trace left, save that dead embers lay where once the fire-pot had been. Tents, carts, horses, Gypsies, — all had vanished from the face of the earth as completely as if they had never been there.
"They have gone and left me!" cried Banda Bela. "Marushka! Where is Marushka?"
"Banda Bela!" called a faint voice behind him, and he turned quickly to see the little girl sitting under a great poplar tree, rubbing her eyes stupidly. He ran to her and the shepherd caught her in his arms.
"What happened in the tent last night?" asked Banda Bela.
"Rosa took me on her lap and cried," said Marushka, "then I went to sleep; but why am I here and where is Rosa?"
"During the night my wife awoke and heard faint sounds of stirring about outside the tent and muffled horses' hoofs. One of the horse herd is missing, many things are taken from the cook hut, and the Gypsies are gone. I do not know why we did not hear them more plainly when they passed," said the shepherd.
"They always tie up their horses' feet in rags when they travel at night," said Banda Bela. "Now they may be many miles from here. No one knows where, for they always cover their tracks. Don't cry, Marushka, I'll take care of you."
"You are but a child yourself," said the shepherd. "Come to my hut and eat and then we shall see what is to be done."
Marushka dried her tears and followed Banda Bela. In silence the two children ate the bread and milk the shepherd's wife prepared for them. Then Banda Bela said:
"Stay here, Marushka. I am going to the cross-roads to see if they have left a sign for us, but I do not think it at all likely."
"What sign would they leave?" asked the shepherd.
"When they go and wish their friends to follow they leave at each cross-road a twig pointing in the direction they have gone. For fear one would think it but a stray twig they cross it with another, and the Gypsy always watches for the crossed branches when following a trail."
"You may look, but you will find no crossed branches at the cross-roads," said the peasant, as Banda Bela ran off. The peasant and his wife talked together in low tones. Soon the boy came back and shook his head mournfully.
"They have left no trail," he said. "They left us behind on purpose."
"The draught they gave you was drugged," said the shepherd. "Tell me, Banda Bela, what will you do?"
"I must take Marushka and go to the city," said the boy. "By walking slowly and often carrying her we can do it. In the city I can play in the streets and earn bread for both."
"But do you like the city? It is noisy and dirty. You will not be free as on the wild," said the peasant's wife.
"I shall like it not at all," said the boy. "But there is nothing else."
"If Marushka will come and live with me I will care for her as my child," said the shepherd's wife. "She shall have clean clothes and plenty to eat and a garden with flowers. Will you come, little one?"
Marushka looked up into the kind face and smiled. "I will come if Banda Bela may come also," she said. The shepherd laughed.
"I told you, Irma, it was useless to take the one without the other. Take both. Banda Bela will serve you well, of that I am sure."
"That I will," said the boy heartily. "Only take care of Marushka and sometimes let me play my music and I will do all that you tell me."
"In this world one can but try," said the shepherd's wife, "then see if good or evil come. I have not the heart to leave these two waifs to starve on this great plain. Come, Emeric, the horses! It will be night before I reach home and there will be much to do."
Almost before the children knew it they found themselves seated beside the shepherd's wife as the cart was whirled along in the opposite direction from which they had come.
They passed country carts made of a huge pine beam with a pair of small wheels at either end. Gay parties of peasants were seated on the pole, the feet braced against a smaller pole.
"What queer-looking people," said Marushka.
"They are not Magyars," said Banda Bela.
"How did you know that?" asked Aszszony Semeyer.
"My father told me many things of Hungary as we travelled together," said the boy. "He told me all the history of how the country first belonged to the Magyars. I remember it almost in the very words he told me."
"What did he say?" demanded Aszszony Semeyer.
"'Many hundreds of years ago the Hungarian people,' he said," began Banda Bela, "'were shepherds who tended their flocks upon the plains of Scythia. The story is that Nimrod, son of Japhet and Enet, his wife, went into the land of Havila, where Enet had two sons, Hunyar and Magyar. These grew up to be strong and to love the chase. One day, as they hunted, they heard sounds of music. These they followed, and came to the hut of the 'Children of the Bush,' where there were two daughters of the king, singing beautifully.
"'Hunyar and Magyar married these two sisters, and their lands were not enough. Westward they moved, from the children of Hunyar coming the Huns, from Magyar's children, the Magyars.
"'They conquered many peoples, but left to each its customs. All were ruled under one chief. So that is why we have so many different peoples to-day.'"
"You know more than I do, Banda Bela," said Aszszony Semeyer.
"My father used to tell me many stories and legends, but I never remembered them very well."
"Marushka, you will be very tired before you reach the village. Curl up on the seat and perhaps you can take a nap."
"Yes, Aszszony," Marushka said obediently, and she and Banda were very quiet.
It was a long drive, but at last the cart rattled down the street of a large village and drew up in front of a white house. Marushka was already asleep and had to be carried into the house. Banda Bela stumbled along after the shepherd's wife and, though with his eyes half shut, obediently ate the bread and milk she put before him. Then he found himself on the kitchen floor before a huge tub of water, with a cake of soap and a large towel.
"Strip! Scrub!" commanded Aszszony Semeyer. "Scrub till you are clean from head to foot, then dry yourself, and I will bring you some clothes. You will never see these again." She picked up a brass tongs from the huge fireplace and with them carried the boy's rags out of the room, her nose fairly curling at the corners with disgust.
Banda Bela did his best. The water was cold, for Hungarians enjoy cold baths, and at the first plunge his teeth chattered. But after a while he rather enjoyed it and scrubbed himself till his dark skin glowed freshly, in spots, it is true, yet he thought it quite wonderful. Not so Aszszony Semeyer. She entered the kitchen, red and flushed with her labours in scouring Marushka.
"You are not clean, no! I will show you — " and she caught up a scrubbing brush. Banda Bela gasped. He would not cry. He was too big a boy for that, but he felt as if he were being ironed with a red-hot iron. Arms, legs, and back, — all were attacked so fiercely that he wondered if there would be any skin left. Half an hour she worked, then wiped him dry and said:
"Now you look like a tame Christian! You are not really clean, it will take many scrubbings to make you that — and more to keep you so — but the worst is done." She cut his wild locks close to his head and surveyed her work proudly.
"Not such a bad-looking boy," she said to herself. "Now for a night shirt and bed." She threw over his head an old cotton shirt and led him up to the attic. "Sleep here," she said, pointing to a clean little bed in one corner. "Rest well and to-morrow we shall see what we can do."
"Where is Marushka?" asked Banda Bela.
"Asleep long ago. You shall see her in the morning," and the boy slept.
The sun woke him early and he lay for a few moments looking about the little room. It was high under the eaves, from which hung long strings of bright red peppers, drying for the winter's use. The morning sun glanced on them and turned them to tongues of fire. From the little window Banda Bela saw down the village street, across the green fields where sparkled rippling brooks, away to the hills. His heart gave a great leap. He had not slept in a room before in all his life. He felt stifled. There was his home, the free, glad föld, he would fly away while yet he could! He sprang from his bed, but where were his rags? Beside his bed was a clean white suit, whole and neat, though patched and mended, and as he paused he heard a voice cry out from below:
"Where is my Banda Bela? I cannot eat my reggeli1 without Banda Bela."
"I must stay with Marushka," he said to himself, and with a sigh he hurriedly put on the white suit, and ran downstairs. Aszszony Semeyer was in the kitchen.
"Good morning," she said. "One would not know you for the same boy. Marushka is in the garden feeding the geese. Run you and help her," and she pointed to the back of the house, where a little garden was gay with flowers, herbs, and shrubs.
Banda Bela went to find his little charge, but saw only four or five geese and a little peasant girl throwing them handfuls of corn. She was a cute little thing, dressed in a blue skirt, a white waist, and an apron with gaily embroidered stripes. One plait of fair hair hung down her back, while another plait was coiled around her head, pressed low on her brow like a coronet. The child's back was turned toward Banda Bela, and he was about to ask her if she had seen Marushka, when she turned and saw him, and then ran to him, crying,
"Oh, Banda Bela! How nice you look! At first I did not know you, but your eyes are always the same! Haven't I a pretty dress? The shepherd's wife gave it to me. It belonged to her little girl who is dead! Is she not good to us, Banda Bela?"
The boy's sense of gratitude was lively, but the memory of the fearful scrubbing he had received was equally strong within him, and he said:
"She is very good, yes — but, Marushka, did she scrub you last night?"
"Oh, yes, very hard, but I like the feel of myself this morning. Don't I look nice?"
"I should never have known you, and you certainly look nice. I hope you will be happy here."
"Oh, I am very happy," she said, brightly. "Of course I could not be if you were not here, but if you stay with me I shall like it very much. You will stay always, won't you?"
Banda Bela looked across the tiny little garden to the sweep of blue hills beyond the town. They glistened with dew in the morning sun. How fair they looked! But the child's sweet eyes were upon him wistfully and he could not resist their pleading, though the föld and air and sky all called to him and claimed him as their own. He knew how hard it would be for a Gletecore to resist the call of the wander spirit, but to Marushka he said:
"I shall stay with you as long as you need me," and Marushka smiled happily.
"I shall always need you," she said. "So always I shall have you. Now come and see the geese," and she led him to see the white-feathered creatures with whom she had already made friends. There were two big black hairy pigs beside, and from their pen these grunted cheerfully at the children as Aszszony Semeyer called them in to breakfast.