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Banda Bela found life with the pigs rather quiet in spite of the noise his four-footed friends made, but he soon learned to know all the pigs by name and to like them, dirty as they were, but he never grew fond of them as Marushka did of the village geese. These followed her like a great white army, as she led them beside the river. They seemed to understand every word she said and would squawk in answer to her call, and come with flapping wings across the field, whenever she spoke to them.
So, too, would the storks who nested in the eaves of the houses, and it was a funny sight to see the long-legged, top-heavy birds stalking around after Marushka, until she gave them bits of her black bread, when they would spread their great wings and fly off contentedly to their nestlings in the eaves.
Marushka's hours at home were quite as busy as those she spent with the geese, for Aszszony Semeyer was a noted housekeeper and did not intend that any little girl under her care should grow up without learning to do housework. Marushka learned to embroider, to sew, to mend, to clean the floors and to cook. She was an apt pupil and it was not long before she could cook even turoscsusza as well as her teacher. Turoscsusza is not easy to make. First one mixes a paste of rye and barley meal, stirred up with salt and water. This is rolled out thin and cut into little squares which are dropped quickly into boiling water, then taken out, drained and put into a hot frying pan, with some curds and fried bacon, and cooked over a hot fire. It takes practice to know just how long it must be cooked to make it to perfection, and Marushka felt very much encouraged when Aszszony Semeyer said to her at last:
"You can make it just as well as I can, child." The little girl knew that no higher compliment could be paid her.
At Christmas time she learned to make the hazel-nut cakes which are so deliciously good, and she and Banda Bela enjoyed the Christmas tree, the first they had ever seen, and which is found in every peasant household in Hungary. In the poorer cottages it is often but a little fir branch decorated with bits of coloured tissue paper and a few candles, but Aszszony Semeyer had a large tree, with all sorts of decorations and presents for the children, who got up at five o'clock to see them, though Marushka was very sleepy, for she had stayed up for the midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Banda Bela had first helped Aszszony Semeyer "strew the straw," one of the quaint Christmas customs in this part of Hungary, where the peasants strew fresh straw upon the floor and sit upon it to insure their hens laying plenty of eggs during the coming year. He also made up the "plenty brush," taking an onion for Aszszony Semeyer, Marushka, and himself, with little bundles of hay and barley ears tied with scarlet ribbon and laid upon the table. This will be sure to bring plenty of onions, hay, and barley to the house during the year.
In order to keep off fire Banda Bela and Marushka had each taken some beans on a plate and raced all around the szvoba,1 touching the wall with the plate, and they had given the pigs and the geese bits of salt to bring them good luck.
Thus the winter passed busily and pleasantly for the two children. They lived on simple but hearty fare. For breakfast there was czibere, made by steeping black bread in water for three weeks until it soured, and making this into soup by adding beaten eggs and sheep's milk. For dinner they had often goulash or turoscsusza with vegetables or bread.
Marushka learned also to boil soap, to make candles, dry prunes, and smoke sausages. She helped to cure the hams, crying bitterly over the death of Banda Bela's little piggies. She churned and made cheese, much of which was stored up for winter use, as were also many of the vegetables from the little garden, which Banda Bela weeded and cared for.
Both children helped to make the slivovitza, or plum brandy, of which every Hungarian household must have some, and which is very good to drink.
Right after Easter the children were invited to a wedding, and as Banda Bela was to play for the czardas, Marushka was delighted.
One of the neighbours, just at the end of the village, had several élado leanyök,2 called this because in Hungary a bridegroom must pay his father-in-law a good price if he wishes a wife. Sometimes a peasant pays only twenty florins for his wife, but sometimes he has to pay as much as two hundred florins.
The day before Irma's marriage, Lajos, the best man, came to the door of Aszszony Semeyer's cottage. Bowing and taking off his hat, he said:
"Most humbly do I beg your pardon for my intrusion under your roof, but I am deputed to politely invite you and your family to partake of a morsel of food and drink a glass of wine, and to dance a measure thereafter on the occasion of the wedding feast of the seed that has grown up under their wings. Please bring with you knives, forks, and plates."
Aszszony Semeyer accepted the invitation, and as Sömögyi Irma was a Slövak girl, the marriage ceremonies were very different from those which a Magyar maiden would have had.
The Slövak wedding is all arranged for by the best man. Of course the young people have been lovers for some time and have plighted their troth through the window on a moonlight night, but no one is supposed to know about that. The lover and his friend, who is called the staro sta, on a Saturday night go to the door of the lady's cottage and say:
"Good friends, we have lost our way. In the king's behalf we seek a star." At this the girl hastily leaves the room and the staro sta exclaims:
"Behold! There is the star for which we seek. May we go and seek her? We have flowers with us to deck her, flowers fair as those which Adam bound upon the brow of Eve in the Garden."
"I will call her back," says the bride's father, and the girl returns to smilingly accept the staro sta's flowers, and his offer of marriage for his friend. The flowers are distributed, speeches are made, and everybody drinks the health of the betrothed pair in slivovitza, binding their hands together with a handkerchief.
The night before the wedding there is a cake dance, when the czardas is danced, the wedding cake is displayed, and everybody cries, laughs, and puts a bit of money into a plate to help toward the wedding expenses, for the wedding feast must last two days, and it costs a great deal of money.
Irma's feast was very fine, for her father was village magistrate and could afford to make her marriage quite a social event. Even the High-Born Baron and Baroness from the great house came, and Marushka was delighted to see them, for she had heard the little peasant girls tell how kind the Baron was, and how beautiful his wife.
The High-Born Baron danced the czardas with the bride and the High-Born Baroness trod the measures with the bridegroom, and Marushka could hardly keep her eyes off the Baroness. Her eyes were soft and brown, her teeth white as little pearls, her complexion a soft olive with rose-hued cheeks, her hair blue-black, soft and fine, waving about her face and piled high with roses at each side above her ears. Her dress was of brocaded silk, the bodice trimmed with pearls, the large sleeves filmy with laces almost as fine as those she might have worn to court. Hungarian women love fine clothes and dress beautifully and the High-Born Baroness wished to pay honor to Sömögyi Vazul, for he had served the Baron's house and his father's before him.
The Baron wore his handsomest uniform, top boots, embroidered coat and magnificent cloak, trimmed in gold braid and buttons, and it was a proud moment in Irma's life when he put his hand upon her elbow and led her out to dance the quaint dance of the Hungarians, with its slow movement gradually growing faster and faster until it ends in a regular whirl.
Banda Bela played his best and the czardas of Irma's wedding was long talked of in the village as the most beautiful which had ever been danced. Then the High-Born Baron spoke to his wife and she smiled and nodded her head and asked Banda Bela if he could play the accompaniment to any of the folk-songs.
"Yes, Your Graciousness," he answered, "to any one of them."
"Then I will sing for you," said the Baroness, and a rustle of expectancy went round the 'szvoba, for it was well known in the village that the High-Born Graciousness was a famous singer and had often been asked to sing to the King. She sang the little folk-song which every Hungarian knows.
"How late the summer stars arise!
My love for thee was late in rising too.
But what of that, or aught, to me?
Why is thy glance so icy cold?
My heart burns hot with love for thee!"
Her voice was tender and sad like that of all the Magyar women, and Marushka thought she had never heard anything so beautiful as the song to which Banda Bela's notes added a perfect accompaniment.
Then the wedding cakes were passed about, and the little girl had her full share. Banda Bela rejoiced in the present of a silver piece from the Baron.
"Who is this child?" demanded the Baroness, attracted by Marushka's fair hair amidst the dark-haired little Magyars and Slövaks.
"A little one adopted by Aszszony Semeyer," replied the magistrate, "as is also the Gypsy boy who played for you."
"She does not look like a Gypsy child," said the Baroness, knitting her brows a little. "She reminds me of some one I have seen — " as Marushka smiled up at her and made her a quaint little peasant's courtesy with more than peasant's grace.
"'Who is this child?' demanded the Baroness"
2 Salable daughters.