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AT THE GULYAS' HUT
From the Gypsy camp came sounds of wailing. Loud and long the howls arose and Banda Bela sprang from the ground where he had spent the night, to see what was the trouble. He found a group of Gypsies gathered around the door of one of the tents, the women seated on the ground, rocking back and forth, wailing, while the men stood in stolid silence. Then Marushka stole timidly to his side and whispered, "Oh, Banda Bela, old Jarnik is dead. He died in the night." The child's eyes were red with weeping. "They did not know it till the morning. Poor old Jarnik! He was so good and kind!"
Banda Bela looked anxious. Waif and stray that he was he had grown quickly to know his friends from his enemies. Jarnik had been his friend. Now that he was gone would the other Gypsies befriend him? The lonely boy had learned to love little Marushka and hated the thought of leaving her, but he felt that without Jarnik he would not long be welcome in the Gypsy camp. Silently he took the child by the hand and led her away from the wailing crowd of Gypsies.
"We can do no good there, little one," he said. "Come with me. I have a bit of bread from yesterday." Marushka's sobs grew less as he seated her by the roadside and gave her bits of bread to eat.
"Do not cry, little one," he said gently. "Jarnik was old and tired and now he is resting. You must be all mine to care for now. I shall ask Stepan to give you to me." He thought over the last talk he had had with Jarnik.
"Take care of the little one," the old man had said. "She has no one here in all the tribe. She is not a Gypsy, Banda Bela. We found her one day beneath a tall poplar tree beside the road, far, far from here. She could scarcely speak, only lisp her name, ask for 'Mother,' and scold of 'bad Yda.' She was dressed in pretty white clothes and we knew she was the child of rich persons. My daughter had just lost her baby and she begged for the child, so we took her with us. The Gypsies say she will bring bad luck to the tribe, for people say she is stolen, so you must care well for her. There are those in the tribe who wish her ill."
Banda Bela remembered this, and thought how he could protect the little girl from harm. Childlike, her tears soon dry, Maruskha prattled about the sunshine and the sky. As they sat, a huge cloud of dust came down the road. Nearing them, it showed a peasant cart drawn by five fine horses, and in it sat a large peasant woman, broad-bosomed and kindly faced. She smiled as the children stared up at her, and the cart rumbled on and stopped at the shepherds' huts.
Attracted by the gay harness of the horses, the children wandered toward them.
"Good morning, little folk," called out their friend of the night before. "Come and eat again with me. Here is my wife come to spend a few days with me. She has good things in her pockets." Marushka went up to the peasant woman and looked into her face and then climbed into her lap. "I like you," she said, and the woman's arm went around her.
"Poor little dirty thing!" she exclaimed. "I wish I had her at home, Emeric, I would wash and dress her in some of Irma's clothes and she would be as pretty as a wild rose."
"I wash my face every morning," said Marushka, pouting a little. "The other Gypsy children never do." Her dress was open at the neck and showed her little white throat, about which was a string, and the shepherd's wife took hold of it.
"Is it a charm you wear, little one?" she asked.
"No, that is my mother's picture," said Marushka, pulling out of her dress a little silver medal.
"Let me see it." The shepherd's wife examined the bit of silver. "Emeric!" she called to her husband in excited tones. "See here! This is no Gypsy child! Beneath her dress her skin is white — her hair is gold — her eyes are like the sky, and around her neck she wears the medal of Our Lady. She is of Christian parents. She must have been stolen by those thieving Gypsies. What do you know of Marushka?" she demanded, turning to Banda Bela, but the boy only shook his head.
"I have been with the band only a few weeks," he said. "Old Jarnik told me that they found the child deserted by the roadside and took care of her."
"A likely story," sniffed the woman. "I shall go and see this Jarnik!"
"But he cannot answer — " began Banda Bela, when the good woman interrupted —
"Not answer! Boy! there is no man, be he Gypsy or Christian, who will not answer me!" The shepherd nodded his head reminiscently.
"Jarnik won't," said Marushka. "He's dead!"
"Dead!" The woman was a little disconcerted.
"He died during the night," said Banda Bela. "There is great wailing for him now. We came away because nobody wanted us around. They will wail all day."
"Eat with us again, children," said the kind-hearted shepherd. "Your cheeks are the cheeks of famine. You are hungry, both eat! and the boy can make music for us. There will be time enough to question the Gypsies to-morrow."
Before the herder's hut a bough with several short branches protruding from it had been thrust into the ground, and upon these cooking pots had been hung. Soon goulash was simmering in the pot, and kasa was tossed together. The peasant's wife had brought bread and fine cheese, and curious-looking things which the children had never seen before.
"These are potatoes," said she. "They are new things to eat in this part of the country. The Government wants to encourage the people to earn their living from the earth. So it has made a study of all that can be raised in the country. Hungary produces grapes, maize, wheat, cereals, hemp, hops, and all manner of vegetables, and the State helps the people to raise crops in every way that it can. About five years ago the head of the Department of Agriculture decided that the people should be taught to raise potatoes, which are cheap vegetables and very nourishing. Arrangements were made with three large farms at Bars, Nyitra, and Szepes, to raise potatoes from seeds sent them by the Department. The next season these potatoes were distributed for seed to smaller farmers, with the condition that they in turn distribute potatoes for seed to other farmers. In this way nearly everyone soon was raising potatoes.
"Sit and eat," said she, and the children feasted royally. There was white wine to drink, but Marushka had buffalo's milk, cool and sweet. The little girl's face was smiling and she looked bright and happy.
Then Banda Bela played his very best, for the kindness had won his heart.
"Can you sing, boy? Have you music in your throat as well as in your fingers?" asked the shepherd's wife.
"I sing a little, yes," he answered. "I will sing to you the 'Yellow Cockchafer,' which Czuika Panna sang to Rŕkoczi."1
Cserebogár sarga cserebogár
Nem Kérdem én töled mi Korlesz nyár
Ast sem Kérdem sokáig éleke?
Csak azt mond meg rozsámé leszeke?
"Little Cockchafer, golden fellow,
I ask thee not when comes the summer time,
Nor do I ask how long shall life be mine.
I ask thee but to tell me
When I my love's shall be."
"Why do you sing to break one's heart?" she demanded, and Banda Bela answered:
"I sang it but as my mother sang when she was here."
"She is dead, then?"
"She and my father, my brothers and sisters. I have no one left." The boy's face clouded.
"Me you have," said Marushka, with a funny little pout.
"I must go to my herd now," said the shepherd. "Come back to-night and we shall give you your supper for another song."
They reached the shepherd's hut that evening to find his wife awaiting him, but he did not come. He was far away with his herd. As it grew dark his wife gave the children bread and milk and bade them hurry to bed.
"It is late for little children like you," she said. "To-morrow we will see you again. To-day I asked about you at the camp and got but black looks in answer."
Banda Bela hurried Marushka away, fearing a scolding, for he had not meant to stay away all day, but when he reached the camp it was dark and still. The fire was nearly out under the fire-pot, the tent flaps were closed. He dared not waken any one, but Dushka, an old Gypsy woman with an evil face, looked out from her tent.
"Oh, it is you, is it?" she said. "Well, there is no food left, but drink this and you will sleep," and she gave each of the children a mug of dark liquid. It tasted bitter but they drank obediently. Then the old woman took Marushka into her tent while Banda Bela threw himself down under a poplar tree near the fire embers, and was soon fast asleep.
1 A famous Hungarian patriot.