"OH, THE EYES OF MY MOTHER!"
"Oh, High-Born Graciousness, what is that beautiful street we are driving into?" asked Marushka, as they drove out in the afternoon, and the coachman turned the horses into a magnificent avenue.
"This is Andrássy-ut, the famous boulevard, which leads to the park," replied the Baroness. "We are driving toward Os Budavará, the Park of Buda-Pest, and it is one of the most beautiful sights in the world."
As she spoke they entered the park, and the children gazed in wonder at its beauty. Swans floated on the miniature lakes; in the feathery green woods bloomed exquisite Persian lilacs, children played on the green grass beneath the willows or ran to and fro over the rustic bridges. On the Corso the fashionables drove up and down in the smartest of costumes, their turnouts as well appointed as any in Paris or London. The men were many of them in uniform, the women, some of them with slanting dark eyes almost like Japanese, were graceful and elegant.
"The skating fętes held in the park in winter are the most beautiful things you can imagine," said the Baroness. "The whole country is white with snow. Frost is in the air, the blood tingles with the cold. Ice kiosks are erected everywhere, and coloured lights are hung up until the whole place seems like fairyland, and the skaters, dressed from top to toe in furs, look like fairy people skimming over the ice."
"It must be beautiful," said Marushka.
"But what is that man playing?"
"The taragato, the old-fashioned Magyar clarinet," was the answer, and the old instrument seemed to tell tales of warlike days, its deep tones rolling out like the wind of the forest. A boy near by played an impudent little tilinka (flageolet), and Banda Bela said:
"That never sounded like real music to me; only the violin sings. It is like the wind in the trees, the rustle of the grass on the moor, the dash of the waves on the shore, the voice of the mother to her child."
"Banda Bela, you are poet as well as musician," said the Baroness. "You shall never go back to Harom Szölöhoz to live. You shall stay with me. I will sing to your music, and you shall study music till you are the greatest violin player in all Hungary."
"When a Gypsy child comes into the world they say his mother lays him on the ground and at one side places a purse and at the other a violin," said Banda Bela. "To one side or other the baby will turn his head. If he turns to the purse he will be a thief, if he turns to the violin he will earn his living by music. My mother said she would give me no chance to choose ill, but an old woman near by laid forth both the purse and the violin and I turned my head to the violin and reached for it with my baby hand. When they placed the bow in my hand I grasped it so tight they could scarce take it from me."
"Banda Bela," said Marushka, and her tone was pettish. "You like your violin better than you do me!" The boy laughed.
"My violin has earned you many a supper, Little One; do not dislike it!"
"Oh, Your Graciousness, what are those strange things?" cried Marushka. "They are not automobiles, are they?"
"No, my child, they are the new steam thrashing machines which the government has just bought, and is teaching the peasants to use instead of the old-fashioned ways of thrashing. Now we are getting into the country. See how beautifully the road winds along the Danube! Is it not a wonderful river? There is a famous waltz called the 'Beautiful Blue Danube' and the river is certainly as blue as the sky. See that queer little cemetery among the hills. I have often wondered why some of the gravestones in the village cemeteries had three feathers and coloured ribbons on them."
"If you please, Your Graciousness," said Banda Bela, "I can tell you. That is for the grave of a girl who has died after she was of an age to be married, yet for whom no one had offered the buying money. Aszszony Semeyer told me that."
"Aszszony Semeyer told me that every peasant kept a wooden shovel hung upon the wall of his house with which to throw in the last shovelful of earth upon his loved ones," said Marushka with a shudder. "Ugh! I didn't like that."
"Very few people like to think about death," said the Baroness. "See that thicket of prickly pears beside the road? Once when I was a little girl and very, very naughty, I ran away from my nurse and to hide from her I jumped over the wall and landed in just such a thicket as that. I think the pears must be naughty, too, for they liked that little girl and would not let her go. The thorns pricked her legs and tore her frock and scratched her hands when she tried to get her skirts loose, until she cried with pain and called 'Kerem jojoro ide'1 to her nurse."
"I did not think the Gracious Baroness was ever naughty," said Marushka.
"The Gracious Baroness was quite like other little girls, my dear," she said, smiling. "Ah, I have a little twinge of toothache!" she exclaimed.
"That is too bad." Marushka was all sympathy. "Aszszony Semeyer says that if you will always cut your finger nails on Friday you will never have toothache."
"Is that so? Then I shall certainly try it," said the Baroness soberly. "Do you see the gleam of white houses between the trees? Those are the beautiful villas and castles of the Svabhegy, the hill overlooking the Danube, and here live many of my very good friends.
"I am going to visit one of them for a little while and you must be good, quiet children and sit in the carriage while I go in to make my call. Then, perhaps, I will take you in for a few moments to see the house, for it is a very beautiful one. See! here we are at the gate," as the carriage turned into a beautifully ornamented gateway, above which was carved the legend: If you love God and your Country, enter; with malice in your heart, go your way.
The driveway wound through beautiful grounds, and through the trees were seen glimpses of the Danube. The house itself was white and stood at the crest of the hill overlooking the river.
"This place belongs to the Count Ándrassy," said the Baroness. "He has also another place in the Aföld and is very wealthy. When my grandfather went to visit his grandfather in the old days, they once took the wheels from his carriage and tied them to the tops of the tallest poplar trees on the estate to prevent his leaving. Another time they greased the shafts with wolf fat, so that the horses would not allow themselves to be harnessed up, for they are so afraid of the wolf smell. Still another time they hid his trunks in the attic so that it was three months before my grandfather finally got away.
"That was old-fashioned hospitality. Here we are at the door. Sit quietly here and I will return," and the Baroness sprang down. There was a swish of her silken skirts and the front door closed behind her.
The children chattered gaily to each other of all they had seen and heard since they had left Harom Szölöhoz, and Marushka said:
"It seems so long since we have left the village, Banda Bela; somehow it seems as if we would never go back."
"I think you never will." Banda Bela spoke a little sadly. "Were you happy there, Little One?"
"Oh, yes," she said brightly. "I was happy with you and Aszszony Semeyer. Only, when I saw other children with their mothers, there was the ache right here — " she laid her hand on her heart.
"I know," said Banda Bela. "I have that always. Only when I play my violin do I forget."
"But I cannot play the violin, nor can I do anything, only embroider that horrible Himmelbelt," and Marushka pouted, while Banda Bela laughed at her.
"Think how proud you will be some day to show that Himmelbelt to your husband," he said, but just then the Baroness and the Count came out of the house together.
"What do you think?" the Baroness asked the Count.
"I think you are right, but Maria shall decide," he answered. "We will say nothing to her and her heart will speak."
"Come in, children," said the Baroness, who looked strangely excited. Her eyes shone and her cheeks were flushed, while the Count's face was pale as death and he looked strangely at Marushka.
"Banda Bela," said the Baroness, "the Countess is not very well. She loves music as you and I do, and I want you to come in and play for her. She is very sad. Once she lost her dear little daughter, and you may play some gentle little songs for her. It may give her pleasure. It is a beautiful thing, Banda Bela, to give pleasure to those who are sad."
The Baroness chattered on as they entered the house. Marushka looked up at the Count's face. Sad as it was she felt drawn toward him. She saw him watching her closely and smiled up at him with the pretty, frank smile which always lighted up her face so charmingly.
"High-Born Count," she said shyly, "I have to thank you for the first present I ever received in all my life."
"What was that, Little One?" he asked.
"The top boots which Banda Bela bought for me at the fair at Harom Szölöhoz. They were bought with the florin you gave to Banda Bela for his playing. They were so nice!" She dimpled prettily.
"I am glad they gave you pleasure. Come, we will go in and hear Banda Bela play," said the Count, holding out his hand. Marushka slipped her hand into his and he led her into the house, entering by the large hall, on the walls of which hung deer horns and wolf heads, while a huge stuffed wolf stood at one end, holding a lamp in his paws. The Count was a great sportsman and had shot many of these animals himself in the forests of the Transylvania.
Banda Bela tuned his violin and then began to play. It seemed to Marushka as if she had never before heard him play so beautifully. Many things he played, all soft and dreamy, with a gentle, haunting sadness through them, until at last he struck into a peculiar melody, a sort of double harmony of joy and sorrow, which he had never played before.
"What is that, Banda Bela?" demanded the Baroness. "Who wrote it, what are the words?"
"If you please, Your Graciousness" — the boy flushed, "it is but a Gypsy song of sorrow. The words are but in my own heart."
"Strange boy," she thought, but at that moment the door opened and a lady hastily entered the room. She was tall and very beautiful, with great masses of corn-coloured hair and deep blue eyes, but her face had a look of terrible sadness.
"Arpád!" she exclaimed. "What is this music? It makes me weep for my lost one and I am nearly blind with weeping now." Her eyes, seeking her husband's, fell upon Marushka, who during the music had been leaning against the Count, his arm around her. The Countess' eyes travelled up and down the little figure, then sought her husband's face with a sort of eager, frightened questioning.
"Arpád!" she cried. "Arpád! Who is this child?"
"Maria, my dearest! I have brought her here that you may tell me who she is," he said, trying to speak calmly.
She drew the little girl toward her and Marushka went willingly and stood looking into the sweet face of the Countess.
"Such a likeness," whispered the Baroness. "They are as like as two sisters."
Then, all in a moment, the Countess gathered Marushka into her arms and covered the child's face with kisses. "You are mine," she cried, tears streaming down her face. "Mine! Arpád! I know it is our little daughter come back to us after all these years. My heart tells me it is she!"
Marushka looked frightened for a moment, then she clung around her mother's neck, and the Baroness quietly drew Banda Bela from the room. From the hall the sound of the Gypsy boy's violin came as he played, with all his soul in his touch, the 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 "Come to me."THE END