THE THREE COMRADES
by Kristina Roy
of Stara Tura, Slovakia.
Translated by Charles Lukesh
First Edition, 3,000—November, 1941
THE THREE COMRADES
In the whole wide world there were no comrades who loved each other better than Petrik, Ondrejko, and Fido. All three were orphans and had had a hard time in the world thus far. Both parents of Petrik had died of a malignant fever. He became a public charge and was sent from place to place, till finally he was placed in charge of "Bacha" Filina, who was his father's uncle, and had charge of the sheep pasturing on the mountain clearings of the estate of Lord Gemer. There was but a poor hut, but to mistreated Petrik it was like a paradise. Ondrejko, whom they called at home Andreas de Gemer, came to the old "Bacha" at the order of the doctor, that he might grow stronger in the mountain air, drinking whey and eating black bread. As it was, Ondrejko did, and did not, have a father—at least he could not remember him. He was but two years old when his parents separated for ever. His mother took him with her when she left, but even then he did not live with her. She left him with strange people whom she paid to keep him, and went alone into the world. The people talked about her; said that she was a famous singer, and that many went from distant places to hear her.
[Footnote 1: Diminutive for Peter.]
[Footnote 2: Diminutive for Andreas.]
[Footnote 3: "Bacha"—shepherd overseer.]
Ondrejko remembered only one of her visits, and that she was very beautiful, and brought him a box full of chocolates, a rocking-horse, a trumpet—and who knows what more? After that he never saw her again, and probably would never see her any more. The lady with whom he stayed talked about a law-suit, at the conclusion of which it came about that he belonged neither to the mother nor the father. Finally, he came to the castle of Lord Gemer, and from there the doctor sent him to the mountains because he was like a candle that was ready to go out. About his father he knew only that he was somewhere far away, and had already a second wife and two boys. It seemed to him he was as much of an orphan as Petrik. The dog Fido didn't remember his mother either, because he had hardly begun to run about the kennel when a wild boar killed her. Thus it is not surprising that all three loved each other.
For Ondrejko they built a special room beside the shepherd's hut. There were three large sheepfolds, and "Bacha" Filina had charge of them all. Ondrejko had in his room a real bed, and a spare one prepared for the doctor when he came to see him; but, because he was rather lonesome, he preferred to sleep with Petrik on the hay, and because Fido couldn't follow them to the loft up the ladder, he at least guarded the ladder so nothing would happen to the boys. Bacha Filina was a large man like a giant. His face was aged and stern; all his teeth were still perfectly white and he had not a single gray hair; but, strangely, his eyebrows began to get gray. But, when he creased his forehead above his eagle-like black eyes which could see everything far and wide, it seemed as if storm-clouds were gathering. Not only both the boys, but everybody else was afraid of these storm-clouds, even the herdsmen and the sheep, as well as the longhaired, fourfooted guards of the sheepfold. Bacha Filina did not get mad easily, but when he did, it was worthwhile. Though Ondrejko was the son of his lord, Bacha Filina didn't let him get by with anything. The boy had not been taught to obey; however, Filina taught him this hard lesson without scolding him or touching him with even one finger. When the doctor brought him to the mountains he said to Bacha, "What this boy needs is to eat black bread and drink whey. He has been raised on fancy foods and they do not agree with him. It would be good for him to wash in cold water, but he is afraid to get wet. You must not worry about him being a Lord Gemer because it is a question of his health."
"Oh, that!" said the Bacha, wrinkling his forehead, "I am able to handle such a little brat"—and he was. The first few days Ondrejko did not dare resist this big man in anything, and now he would not even dream of it. The boys did not know a more noble man in the whole world than Bacha Filina. He didn't bother much the whole day what they did, but in the evening before the sheep were gathered, he sat with them in God's beautiful nature before the cabin, and there they could, even had, to tell him everything. They sat near him, one on the one side, the other on the other, and Fido laid his great hairy head on the knees of his master and looked on so wisely, that it seemed he, too, would want to tell all that happened during the day. He was still a young, lively fellow. You could see by his nose and ears he was not trained very much; his fur was often quite tangled because he started quarrels with the older dogs, Whitie and Playwell.
The first time Bacha found the two boys sleeping together on the hay he frowned and they were afraid of what was going to happen—but nothing at all happened; he only ordered Ondrejko to spread his sheet on the hay and cover himself with a blanket; so they both covered themselves and slept very well in the fragrant hay.
It was on a Sunday afternoon. The quiet of the holiday was noticeable even on the mountains where, hand in hand, the little comrades walked. They were nicely washed and arrayed in Sunday clothing, because Bacha Filina would not suffer anybody to desecrate Sunday. Everyone who could, had to go to the next town to church, though it was almost two hours' walk. He himself seldom went; he was not able to take long walks. Once a timber fell on his foot in the woods and from that time on he had pains in it, but since he did not go down to church, he read in his large old Bible. Today he had gone to church and the boys went to meet him. They missed him very much. He ordered them to memorize the reading of the Gospel for the day and each had to recite separately.
Suddenly Petrik became silent; he drew his comrade aside and pointed with a silent nod of the head toward a cut-down tree lying in the woods. There sat Bacha Filina with his head resting in the palms of his hands as if something were pressing him down to the black ground.
"Let us go up to the Bacha," advised Petrik; "he seems to be sad."
"Truly very sad," worried Ondrejko. "Perhaps the sadness will pass from him when we come to him."
The crackling of dry branches under the bare feet of the boys roused Bacha. He looked around. The children stood a short distance off. Should they go to him—or not?
"Where are you going?" he called to them. They came running. "Only to meet you, Bacha."
"Well, why did you come to meet me?" His usually rough voice seemed to sound different. "We were lonesome without you," haltingly admitted Ondrejko, and presently they sat on the moss carpet at the feet of Bacha.
"And why, Bacha, were you sitting here so sadly?" Petrik looked surprisedly at Ondrejko, that he dared to ask. Would not Bacha be angry?
"Did you think that I was sad?" Bacha stroked the golden hair surrounding the pale face of the child, which in the sunshine looked like a halo on a saint.
"And were you not?" The blue eyes of the boy, like two lovely blue flowers, gazed into the black eagle-like eyes of the man.
"Well, child, I was sad, and you have done well that you came to meet me. While I rest a while, recite to me the Gospel that you have learned."
Both boys, one after the other, recited the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.
"May I ask you, Bacha, to tell me why the rich man did not help Lazarus?" Petrik dared to ask.
"Why? Because his heart was like a stone. The dogs were better than he. Remember that, children, and never do any harm to birds or animals; they are better than we. Now let us go."
Bacha took Ondrejko by the hand and giving his book to Petrik they walked through the woods toward home. High above them in the clearing sounded the bells of the flock, and off and on the impatient barking of Whitie and Playwell, and in between sounded the trumpet of the youngest herdsman, Stephen. He played with such an ardor that it seemed the notes were running over;
"Come, come, ye gentle sheep, Keep out of waters deep; Pasture on meadows green Where grass grows sweet and clean."
How the trumpet resounded as if some one were weeping in the woods! Even the echo seemed to answer in the same way.
The boys liked the beautiful tune. They knew the words of this song, but Bacha bowed down his proud head as though some great burden were pressing him down.
After they had finished their simple supper, they sat again as usual in front of the hut, Bacha on a stump and the boys at his feet. They were looking one at the other, wondering if they dare ask for some story. He knew so many of them, and when he was in good humor he knew very well how to tell good stories.
"I beg, Bacha, will you not tell us something?" Ondrejko finally asked, and looked at the same time in such a way at Bacha that he would have to be a very hard man to refuse.
Disturbed from his meditation, Bacha looked for a while into the beautiful inquiring eyes, then with a deep breath he began:
"Many years ago I was a boy like you two. I'm telling you this that you may know what you should never become, if the Lord God is not to be very angry at you. I will tell you today something about myself which I have not yet told anybody on earth," began Filina. He stopped a moment and the boys waited eagerly for him to go on.
"When I was five years old my mother died. My father brought another mother in the house. She was a young, beautiful woman, a widow. With her came a son from her first marriage. We called him Stephen, and when I look at you, Ondrejko, I always have him before me as he entered our hut for the first time. On his head he had a hat with a long band, a cloak thrown over his shoulder, an embroidered shirt, and narrow trousers. He was like a picture of a saint—so beautiful and so lovely.
"I was my father's youngest child. The older ones died, so I never had a brother, and suddenly he came—and was to be my brother. You love each other—I know. That also reminds me of my childhood. I began to love him more than I could my own brother. We were of equal age, but I was strong and he weak; I was wild and he tame; I was ugly and he beautiful. In spite of this we loved each other, and our parents were well satisfied. They could leave him under my care—because they knew I was able to defend him—and could leave me under his care, because when he was with me I was much more tame.
"Would that it had remained so always. But a proverb says, not in vain, that 'Where the Devil cannot go himself he will send an old woman.' And he sent her to us. It was your father's Aunt, your great-aunt, Petrik. She came once to us and asked me aside if the new mother liked me, and was sorry for me that I was a poor orphan. Said she, 'Who has a step-mother has also a stepfather. Your father doesn't love you as much as he does Stephen.' She didn't stay long with us. Just as she came, so she went, but she took with her my love for Stephen. Because I was so wild and always did something wrong, my wise father had to punish me often; but Stephen was never punished because he always did what was pleasing in the sight of father and mother. From that time on I always remembered the words of the great-aunt that I was punished and he not because they loved him, and his mother interceded for him, and there was no one to stand by me. But my step-mother quite often interceded for me. She was a kind woman and never did me any harm, but I wanted her to show more love to me than to her own boy. But that could not be. This wrong thought grew in my heart, and my envy increased from year to year till we were about as old as you two boys; and now comes the sad part which I never shall forget, and that is what is pressing me to the earth unto today."
Bacha pointed over to the mountain opposite them.
"Do you see yonder mountain?" The boys nodded.
"There we used to live at the foot of the mountain. Look toward the West, where the sun is lying down to sleep; there in the valley lived the weavers, to whom from all our homes, the wool was carried to be woven. Two paths led to those huts; the one up and down over the rocks—the other through the valley, easier but more dangerous, because there was a stretch of swamp into which, if somebody fell, he could never get out by himself. One who knew how, could get over by jumping from rock to rock and to clumps of grass, but it seemed as if some black power wanted to pull one down.
"Once our parents had us carry our wool. Going, we went the upper way, as we were told, but after we delivered the wool to the weavers, Stephen handed me an apple, which the weaver's wife had given him, saying he had another in his bag from his mother. Mother gave me nothing for the journey because I didn't take leave of her, and she didn't even see me when I grabbed my bag. And now, even the weaver's wife had not given me anything. It made me sad. I got angry, threw the apple away, and would rather have cried. Here was evidence, I thought, that what the great-aunt said was true. Nobody cared for me, at home, nor anywhere else. Everybody liked Stephen, and it always would be so.
"I used to hear some people say that the Devil is walking on the earth, though we do not see him, and whispers to us what we should think and do. If it is true, I don't know, but that he was with me that time and gave me bad, gruesome advice, is sure. Only he could have told me that. When we left the weavers, I said to Stephen, 'Going over the mountain is too far. Let us go by the lower and more convenient path; it is nearer.'
"'But mother said we must go only over the hill,' objected Stephen, 'and father called also from the yard, 'Do not go by the lower way.'"
"Well, however it was, when we came where the paths divided we went on the lower path anyway. I claimed that my feet hurt, I had stubbed my big toe, and had a thorn in my heel. Stephen was sorry for me, and thought that when we explained it to mother she would see the reason, and father also, why we took the lower path after all.
"Truly it was fine to run there, like on carpets, till we came to the swamp. 'You must now jump from rock to rock,' said I, and I ran ahead. We came near the opposite side. There was only one more jump. Because I was larger, and my feet longer I managed to jump over, but I knew that Stephen could not jump over. There were bunches of grass and I advised him to run over them. He listened to me, came over two or three, but the third one began to move under him and he jumped back on the rock.
"'Stay there,' I called to him. 'Not far from here lives the forester; I will run for him and he will help you.' I ran as fast as I could but not to the forester's house.
"'Petrik, do not leave me. I am afraid,' called Stephen after me, and right after that followed a cry:
"Thus I have heard him day and night, as in the past years, so even till today, and I shall perhaps in the hour of death and in the whole of eternity. I was still a small boy, but a bad one, and at that moment hard as a rock. 'Surely he will fall in and will drown,' I consoled myself. 'Nobody will give him any more apples, and people will love me and me only.' No old criminal could have felt worse than I felt then. I began to run still faster till my legs broke down under me and my breath failed. Yes; I ran through the woods alone, forsaken, as once Cain did when he killed his brother and ran away from the face of God. Suddenly a great pain gripped me that could not be expressed, because the voice that whispered to me before, 'Drown him in that swamp,' now whispered to me, 'You dare not go home. What will you say when they ask you about Stephen?' Tired and hungry as I was I threw myself on the ground and started to cry bitterly till I fell asleep.
"At day-break the drivers passed by with their wagons for lumber. They found me and, recognizing me, laid me sleeping on a wagon and took me as far as our hut. There they awakened me, laid me down, and half-sleeping I didn't realize at once what had happened the day before. I ran to the hall and opened the door.
"The rays of the rising sun struck our bedroom first—the same that day. It lit up the bed of my father, and ..." Bacha stopped and tears ran down his cheek.
"And what, Bacha? Oh, what, Bacha?" with bitter cries both boys exclaimed. The tears were already running down Ondrejko's pale face.
"There on the bed in the rays of the sun like a holy picture, rested our Stephen, sleeping. Mother sat beside the bed. There was a humming in my ears and blackness before my eyes, and if father had not jumped and caught me I would have fallen over. It was long before they brought me back to consciousness."
"So he didn't drown?" both boys were astonished and rejoicing.
"Didn't he fall into that swamp?"
"He fell in it, children. Oh, he fell in, and there was no man who could have saved him. But we had a large dog called Whitie who went around always with us, as Fido with you. When we left home we left him behind, but he followed us, and the Lord God Himself sent him in that moment when the stone under Stephen gave way, and he lost his balance and fell. Whitie caught him by the hair and dragged him to the shore, and whined and barked till the forester came.
"He carried Stephen to the brook, washed off the mud, and revived him, for he was almost dead, and then carried him home. I expected father would punish me but he did not. Mother kissed me crying, and gave me breakfast. They were afraid something had happened to me. They thought I had been drowned because I couldn't be found anywhere. I saw clearly that they both loved me very much, but it did not please me, I was afraid it would become known what I had intended to do. My parents are already in eternity, and I can not now ask them for forgiveness because after death there is no more forgiveness.
"Stephen never let it be known that I made him go that way, and from that time on we loved each other as from the beginning. I was no longer jealous of the love of father and mother to him. I knew and felt now that they loved me also, and that I didn't deserve this love.
"From that time I couldn't look at the dog Whitie. It was always painful to me that he, a dog, saved Stephen, when I wanted to drown him. But though he didn't drown that time the Holy God took him to Himself. He must be angry at me, a sinner, to this day. Thus I say, 'Never do any harm to animals; they are much better than people; they are God's creatures; they never do wrong things before God but obey always.' And now, boys, run and go to sleep."
Though the boys had many questions on their hearts they obediently bade him "good night" and went. For a long time, lying on the hay, they spoke together about Stephen, how he jumped over the bunches of grass, how the rock turned under him, how he fell, and how Whitie saved him.
"I am very sorry for Bacha Filina," said Ondrejko. "I can never forget it. It must pain him—could it be that God is still angry with him?"
"But where is this Stephen?" worried Petrik. "They were the same age, so he must be just as old now. Perhaps he will tell us some other time about him." They were stopped from further talking by Fido. Somehow he had managed to get to them and they were rejoiced. They told him once more about the hero Whitie and enjoined upon him to follow him. He wagged his tail, licked their hands and faces, whining for joy as if he were promising it all, and when the boys slept, he slept with one eye open because he had to stand guard over his comrades.
The following week Bacha Filina had much work to do, so he could not look much after the boys, though they did all they could; they obeyed him and tried to please him in every way. On Tuesday the doctor came to look at Ondrejko. He was told where Ondrejko slept, but he only laughed: "Good for you, boy, that will help you; though your father is a great lord and a proud Magyar, everything serves in its time. Thus I trust we shall live to see that the Tatra Mountains will belong to the Slovaks and also these woods. Because your grandfather lived there as a great Slovak, you also as a good Slovak will be living. Just learn the language of your father and draw near to that soil which they once cultivated." The boys didn't grasp what he meant. They only felt that he was their friend.
The evening came. They had to make a bed for the doctor beside themselves on the hay. In the morning he drank the good milk and ate the black bread with cheese. Then the boys took him as far as the "Old Hag's Rock." On the way Ondrejko asked about his father. He learned that he now lived in Paris and did not purpose to come that year for the summer. The boy breathed more freely because he felt that if his father came he would have to go to him, away from Bacha Filina and away from Petrik. That would not please him; he did not want to go at all. When the doctor took leave of the boys they followed him with their eyes as long as they could see his straw hat, then they climbed the rock to see him better, but in the meantime he had disappeared altogether. Instead of that they saw on the other side of the "Old Hag's Rock" a beautiful little valley, and in it a solitary house with small windows which was made of wood and covered with shingles, standing there by the brook. It looked like a fairy-story house set among the springs coming out from the rocks. The herder Steve had told the boys several times about witches who lived in solitary huts, and it seemed to them that one of them might be living there. A large white dog sunned himself in front of the hut. If Fido had been with them, he surely would have started a fight with him. As the boys were looking at the cottage the door opened, but no old woman came out, only a boy who was a little larger than themselves, in a cape and belt, sandals, and with a hat on his head. The dog jumped up, wagged his broad tail, and stretched himself, yawned and barked happily. The boy stroked him on the head and smiled at him, then both began to walk up toward the great rock.
The dog spied our comrades first and stopped. They could see he was not as young as Fido, but that he was wise and did not bark uselessly at anybody, so they knew that he must be friendly to people. Soon the boys stood face to face, and the strange boy, whose dress indicated that he was not from that section, greeted them in a friendly manner. He asked them what they were doing and where they were from. They told him that they had accompanied the doctor that far. Ondrejko dared to ask him if he lived in that little house.
"The hut belongs to us, but I am from Trenchin. I came only a week ago with my father. A distant uncle of my mother died, and because there is no nearer relative my mother inherited this hut. Father wants to sell it, but a nice bit of woods with fine timber belongs to the hut, which we could use very well in our business. Therefore we shall stay here for some time, cut the wood and take it along."
"And the dog is yours?"
"Yes, it is our Dunaj. He did not want to stay at home; we had to take him along, though we had to pay for him on the railroad."
"Surely you didn't have him along in the carriage?" ventured Ondrejko.
"Oh, no; and he did not like where they locked him up, at all. He almost knocked me down when he regained his freedom. Isn't that so, Dunaj?" The dog whined and cuddled down at his master's feet.
"We too have a dog which is still young, but he also will be big when he grows up," Ondrejko said, appraisingly.
"And where are you going?"
"Only up here on the rock to see what is behind it. In our country we also have a large rock, but much higher and broader, and when you look down from it it seems as if you look down into Sunshine Valley, as the story goes. And after the storm a rainbow appears, like Heaven's gate which appeared once to Jacob in a dream. Once upon a time I believed that Heaven's gate was only there, but today I know that Heaven is everywhere open that the Lord Jesus might come to us where and when He wants to. Do you know Him too?"
"Who?" wondered the boys.
"The Son of God, the Lord Jesus. But I see already that you do not know Him, and He surely sent me to you, so that I could tell you all that I know. Do you have time?"
"We can spend about an hour," said Petrik, who felt the new stranger was very friendly and he would like to have him for a comrade.
"Let us then sit down here on the rock, and I will tell you how it was that I came to the Sunshine Valley the first time, and what kind of book I found there. I have it even here with me because I could not be without it. But tell me first your name. I am called Palko, though they once baptized me in the name of Nicholas. But this is a long story."
"My name is Petrik, and he is called Ondrejko. At home they call him Andreas de Gemer in the Magyar tongue, but Bacha Filina says, 'Why should we break our tongues with foreign names?' Anyhow, Ondrejko is much nicer," zealously spoke Petrik.
"That is a nice name. It was the name of one of the disciples of the Lord Jesus who brought to Him the boy with the loaves and fishes. I have it beautifully written in this book."
In the meantime the boys climbed the rock, sat down, and the new comrade drew out a book carefully wrapped up in paper and began to tell them the beautiful things about it. If one would want to repeat them it would take a whole book.[A]
[Footnote A: See first part of "Sunshine Country."]
Among other things, he told them that whosoever takes this book into his hands dare not read it otherwise than word for word, from the beginning to the end, because only in this way will he get to know the Way which leads to the true Sunshine Country, where, through the Heaven's gates, the Lord Jesus went to prepare a place for all those who obediently went that way.
The boys would not have tired listening till the evening, but suddenly Fido came, and as if he knew that with such a dog as Dunaj he mustn't start a fight, just licked his comrades and was friendly to the stranger. His arrival reminded the boys of Bacha, and what he would say if they stayed too long. They rose, and Palko promised to accompany them that they might show him where their hut was standing, and when he had time he would come to visit them.
He ran down to close his house and they had to wait a while. When he returned he carried a large piece of bread which he divided equally into five parts, and then they followed the narrow path over the meadows to the sheepcotes.
The newcomer told them many things on the way. They could hardly part from him.
When Bacha came to supper they endeavored to out-do one another in telling him about it. He listened intently, and said he would be glad when the strange boy, who it seemed was very decent, would visit them. They all hoped that he would come the next Sunday.
It is a true saying that, "People keep with people, and mountains with mountains." How one person gets used to another you can scarcely believe until you have seen it yourself. What is it that draws one to another? Long lived our three comrades with Bacha Filina without Palko, and nothing was lacking, but now if a day passed without seeing him it seemed as if they could not stand it. Though it may seem strange, Bacha Filina would have missed him most. Wherever he went, whatever he did, he always had in mind the moment when the bushes parted on that beautiful Sunday afternoon, and, like a picture in a frame, stood the strange boy so clean and neat with his cape over his shoulder, small hat in his hand, resting his hand on a shaggy white dog. It would truly be a fine picture for a painter to paint in those wide mountains, if he could but make it so true to nature—you could not look at him enough. And he remembered again how Palko sat with them in front of the hut with the Holy Book in his hand, reading word for word, chapter for chapter. Such beautiful and good things. So must Jesus have looked when He sat amongst the Jewish teachers. Oh, how did he understand the Word of God! No sermon had moved old Bacha as did the talks of Palko the boy, though he had heard many in his life. Bacha had a whole Bible which he read sometimes on Sunday. He had also a big book with sermons, but since the time that Palko Lesina came every evening to them it was as if a veil had been removed from the man's eyes. The Bible became to him the living Word of God.
"The Lord Jesus used to walk by the Sea of Gennesaret," said the boy seriously. "Now He walks through these mountains of yours. Sometimes He passed through our mountains to seek us, and now He seeks you."
* * * * *
Again it was Sunday. Filina got the boys ready to go to church, but he himself remained in front of his hut. Fido who was not permitted to run with the comrades, lay at his feet. Suddenly he pricked up his ears, jumped up, and like an arrow flew into the nearby thicket. Bacha paid no attention. He sat with his head bowed down. He did not even hear someone speak to the dog, nor hear any greeting; he did not arouse himself till he heard close to him the pleasant young voice which he loved so much.
"Good morning, Uncle Filina. Why are you so sad and so lonely? Where is everybody?"
"Welcome, Palko," gladly replied the man. He held out his brown hand to the boy. "If I had known you would come, I would not have sent the boys to the church. Everywhere is the house of God. And I suppose you are bringing the Bible, about which you spoke yesterday?"
"Yes, I do. My father went away for a few days. He asks you kindly if you will let me stay with your boys that I may not have to stay alone in the hut. Will you take me?"
The beautiful eyes of the boy gazed longingly on the face of the man.
"Why, surely. We will be only too glad if you stay with us," answered Bacha. "But why did your father go home?"
"He went with some wood. He could not take it all at once. The balance we shall put on a float, and so carry it to our destination. Thus I could bring the Bible to show it to you."
"Is that the one from Pastor Malina?"
"Yes, Uncle, and I esteem it very much. There are many notes in Latin which I do not understand, and also some in Slovak. When I look at the writing I see the pastor in front of me. I would like to show you what he wrote the last Sunday when he became so seriously ill. Do you have time for it, Uncle?"
"Oh, yes, my son; it is Sunday. Just read on."
"You will understand it better than I because you are older. There is something very good: 'I have missed very much; my whole life is wasted,' began the boy, and his voice sounded so solemn, almost as if he were reading the Word of God. 'Even though I would, I cannot improve anything. It is too late; it is too late! Souls passed into eternity—it may be I did not bring salvation to them. They never come back that I may ask them forgiveness and love them. Oh, how glorious are the words, 'By grace ye are saved ... it is the gift of God.' In this holy gift I take my refuge, my holy God and Saviour. I know that You have pardoned me and have even taken the punishment that I merited on Yourself. I cling to Thy cross; I fall at Thy wounded feet, and thank Thee—Oh, so thank Thee; yes, I will praise eternally Thy holy name, O Jesus!'" read Palko.
"Thus believed Pastor Malina ..." but the boy stopped because the Bacha sat with his head bowed down, and cried aloud.
"'Even if I would, I couldn't make anything good. It is too late. The souls went on to accuse me,'" he repeated in his crying. "That is what is pressing me down to the ground, and all my good life since that time doesn't help anything ..."
The boy rested his curly head in the palms of his small hands.
"Uncle, will you not tell me what is worrying you so much? It could not be the sin that you wanted to drown your Stephen, as Petrik told me?"
"Stephen didn't drown. I, when something is pressing me, confess it and feel easier at once."
"The Apostle James says, 'Confess your sins one to another.' It is true I am only a boy, but I know already how the soul and the heart ache—and there is no comforter. But the Lord Jesus will grant it to me that I may be able to understand and to help you."
The man looked at the boy. He stroked his whiskers. "If I have to tell somebody about it as I have wished for years, it will suit me best to tell it to you. The Lord God gave you more wisdom than me, an old man, just as Samuel the boy had more than the old priest Eli."
Bacha strode over to his stump where he usually sat. Palko lay beside him on the grass. He drew the Bible near him, and laid his hand on the head of Fido who cuddled close beside. Thus he waited patiently.
"Since Petrik told you what kind of a boy I was, I do not have to retell it again," began the man presently. His whole appearance did not fit into that beautiful Sunday morning.
"Thus we both grew up, and I can say with a good conscience that Stephen and I loved each other very much. I could never forget that he did not tell our parents how I forsook him in his plight. He convinced me that our parents loved us both. All was well now and might have remained so always, had not mother after her sister's death brought to us her niece, Eva. She was a small beautiful girl. From the beginning she seemed to be afraid of me, but with Stephen she was at once, friendly, until I once saved him from vicious dogs. From that time she clung always to me. Thus it was as we grew up together, and after we were grown up. You cannot understand more now, therefore I can only tell you this much. When we became young men, there was no more beautiful girl to us in the whole wide world. It seemed to me that her black eyes shone brighter than all the stars, and that such lilies and roses as were on her face did not bloom on any bush. At that time there was a large immigration to America. Many times I wondered how people, just for the sake of mammon, could go so far into the world when in spite of our poverty it was so beautiful and lovely here. To me, the woods and meadows were like a paradise and in my heart all was song—like the heavens; but there is no paradise upon this earth and the heavens are too high. Once when I returned from work—it was already evening—mother and father sat in front of the house in consultation about us children, as they often did. I did not want to disturb them, therefore I sat down not very far away and listened."
"Do you think, then," said mother, "that one of the children will have to go to America?"
"You see, my wife, there the people achieve something quicker than we do here. We suffer bravely and yet barely live," sighed father. He was a good man but already worn out by hard labor.
"'And which one do you think should?' mother asked with a sigh.
"'That we will leave for them to decide. I think thus: Let one stay at home and take Eva for his wife, so you have some help. Let the other one go to America for a few years, and after he has made some money and God granting that he will return safely, then they may live together. I would not like that after our death they should be separated. It is well for them to be together.'
"I noticed how mother gave a sigh of relief, but to me it seemed as if someone stuck a dagger into me. They surely expected me to go. Stephen would remain at home and take Eva. That night I did not sleep at home. A similar trouble overtook me as in my childhood, only stronger and much more terrible. Where I gathered strength to return in the morning I do not know. Eva ran to meet me, and as soon as I saw her I told myself that verily, I would never go to America, and Eva must never belong to anyone else but to me. Since that hour I could hardly give a kind look to Stephen though he gave me no reason for anger.
"We had a meadow beyond the swamp. There I went with Eva the next day to turn over the cut grass, and I asked her to be mine. I did not have much luck at first, but since I pleaded so much and promised so much, she finally promised that she would not take anyone else.
"After the affair was settled, Eva bound up a bundle of grass, and looking around I noticed Stephen departing along the pathway. He had heard us without us noticing him.
"The following week we had some work in the city and Stephen said that he would go. Mother tried to prevent him. She had rather I should go because Stephen did not look very well. Really he looked thin and pale, as if after a serious illness or before one. But I insisted that I would not go this time, and father agreed. He had some work for me.
"'Come with me part of the way,' said Stephen the following day, after he had taken leave of our parents and Eva. So I went. We took the steep path to the cross above, on top of the hill. There he stopped. We looked at each other.
"'Mother told me what plans father had for us. One of us must go to America,' he began. 'It cannot be you. I saw you and Eva not long ago on the meadow. Father wants one of us to take Eva. Now that she is yours what should I do here any longer? Once before in childhood I was in your way, so that you wanted to get rid of me in that black watery grave. The second time I shall not stand in your way. It would be difficult for mother to part with me. You must realize that, because she has only me. So I want to spare her the leave-taking, but I want to tell the truth to you that you may be satisfied and not begrudge me anything more. I am really leaving everything to you: parents, home, and Eva too. She cannot belong to both. Those were hard moments for me on yonder meadow. If you had to bear what I went through in those moments you could not stand it. Thus it is good that she chose you. To me it was as if I was drowning again, only the swamp into which you threw me this time was much deeper than the one before. Mother said I seem to be ill. Here I shall never get well—over there far away, I can recover sooner. I give you my hand in parting, and you give me yours without any bitterness. Let us part like brothers.'
"I clasped his hand silently. He took his things, then ran down along the path into the thicket. Bending over beside the cross I tried to see him once more—and I did. He lifted his beautiful face marked with deep sorrow toward the valley where he could see our hut for the last time. Suddenly tears gushed from his eyes. I wanted to make a step forward, wanted to call him back, to leave everything to him, and I go to America. But there was no strength in me. So I let him go for ever. We never saw him again."
Bacha cried aloud again, and Palko with him.
"Uncle, tell me all, to the end," he begged after a while. "Then what about his poor mother? How did you tell her about it?"
"I didn't have to tell her, my boy," said Filina as he calmed down. "He took care of all that. Mother had a distant relative who came to us the third day and brought everything that Stephen should have brought from the city; also a letter from him, wherein he begged our parents not to be angry with him because he was thus leaving for America. In that letter he again made no mention that it was I who drowned him in the depths of sorrow. It was a very beautiful letter. We treasured it as a keepsake, and when mother was dying the poor dear asked me to have it placed in her coffin. I endeavored to make good to her the son she lost. After father passed away, mother blessed me many times for the good care she enjoyed, but it did not bring peace to my heart.
"The distant relative who brought to us Stephen's letter intended to go to America himself. He had already bought the ticket, when circumstances hindered him from going. He complained to Stephen that he could not go, and Stephen asked him to sell the ticket to him. He borrowed some money from him on his part of the inheritance. This we had to repay later, because that ship never reached its goal. It sank in a storm. Thus you see, Palko, that after all, I had drowned my brother. If he had not run away from my presence he might have found another girl and could have lived till today. Thus he died, and his death accuses me before God's face for my selfishness. Verily, God's punishment came upon me soon. I enjoyed my happiness but a short time. From the time that the message reached us about the sinking of the ship, Eva just pined away, and after the death of our son, she died. In her fever, not knowing what she said, she told how she loved Stephen, and I realized that her longing for him made her perish by my side. Well, now they are both gone and I only am here—all alone."
"And your son, where is he?"
"Him also the good Lord took. When his mother died there was no one who could give him the necessary care. He took cold, and in three days he was also with God. Now I have told you everything, my boy. I have confided all to you, but you do not understand."
"Do not think that I do not understand, Uncle. I know that your heart is sad because of the injustice Stephen suffered because of your envy. I know that you have sinned grievously. Why could you not like the priest, Malina, grasp the cross and the feet of Christ? You understand, in the Spirit, by faith, and receive the gift of God—salvation. There further is this quotation: 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief,' and here again it is written, 'It seems to me I am the one, the most sinful of the sinners, but I believe, I believe, O Lamb of God, that Thou hast died for me also, and I am casting my heart at the foot of Thy cross, that Thy blood pouring over me may cleanse it also.'"
"I see there are very good things written there, Palko. Leave this book with me for some time that I may be able to read it at leisure, and see if also on me the Son of God will have mercy and forgive my grievous sins. Now continue to read where we left off last time."
"Now I will also bring the song-book and we shall have a song. This will be our Sunday worship." Bacha brought the book and they had a lovely time in worshiping God. Christ came to them through His Spirit and made the Word of God living, to the young soul who walked with Him continually like Enoch, and also to the one who could say, "I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Thy servant" (Ps. 119: 176).
Verily, verily, this quotation is true, "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (Hebrews 13:2). Bacha Filina and those in his household proved it. It was just as if God's blessing had moved to them with Palko Lesina. They all had success in everything they undertook. The boy was ready to help everywhere, and set the house in such order as it never had been before.
"You see, the Lord Jesus lives here," Palko explained sweetly. "He is here, and we don't know when He comes and where He would like to sit down. We would not have any place to receive Him."
Stephen taught him how to play the shepherd's horn and he played on it beautiful Christian songs, so that the mountains fairly resounded. When he played tag or blind man's buff with the boys he was the most joyful of them. But as soon as he was invited to read from his precious Book, he obeyed at once and sat among them, as once his Lord did among learned old men in Jerusalem. On Petrik especially he had a good influence. Petrik was often self-willed and disobedient, so that Bacha had to punish him.
"Why should you make Uncle Filina cross? Just tell it to the Lord Jesus when the Devil is tempting you, and He will deliver you, He will help you," advised Palko.
Ondrejko became more quiet and thoughtful. He liked the talks with Palko very much. He believed everything, even that the Lord Jesus is constantly present. Therefore it is necessary to be always washed and clean and dressed decently, and also that it is necessary to give one's heart to the Lord Jesus when He wants it, and that He takes the heart and cleanses it. Before Palko realized it, the Lord Jesus had one servant more. And thus His Holy Word was fulfilled; "I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes" (Matt. 11:25). No one can find out how it happens; it passes human understanding, how the caterpillar in the dried-up cocoon takes a new life with the arrival of Spring. Before they reached that part in that precious Book where it begins to tell of the sufferings of and, finally, the death of the Lord Jesus, Ondrejko felt in his heart that all happened for him also. He could not quite explain it, and no one expected him to, but he knew it in his heart.
Once, when he went with Palko to his hut, he prayed that the Lord Jesus would forgive him everything and asked Him to come into his heart. Ondrejko thereupon believed without fail that it happened, because it is still true today, "If thou shalt believe, thou shalt see the glory of God." Therefore what he believed, he also had. Ondrejko de Gemer already had suffered much on this earth. He suffered many heart-aches for the want of a father or mother. Many nights he cried about it when no one heard him. Very few realize how much pain a little child may suffer from sorrow and hopelessness from lack of love. Before Ondrejko came to Filina he often used to wonder what would become of him, since he had nobody, although both of his parents were living. Would he always have to live with strange people? A book could be written of the thoughts of that forsaken little soul while he was building castles and bridges, and when people thought he was deeply interested in his play. Fortunately Palko Lesina arrived, and through his daily talk made it plain to his little comrade that Someone good and beautiful lives, and that this beautiful and good One also loved him, little forsaken Ondrejko de Gemer, whom even his father did not love, and He wanted to live with him always, that Ondrejko need not feel forsaken anymore. Now he had Someone to bring his complaints to, and he could confide everything to Him, yea, everything. How beautiful that was! Yes, verily, the Lord Jesus now had one servant more.
Even the herdsmen sighed to Bacha, "How shall we ever get along without Palko Lesina? Ever since the boy has been with us, it seems that the sunrise looks more beautiful and the dew is richer on the ground."
"He is a blessed boy," admitted Filina with a sigh. Oh, how very much he needed this boy! Therefore when, instead of Lesina, a letter came, he was much relieved. Lesina wrote that he would not be able to come back till six weeks later, and asked Bacha to keep Palko with him in the meantime, that he would be useful in every way. He didn't want to let the boy come home alone because it was so far, and he was his only child. When that letter came, the boys jumped for joy, and Fido helped them, but the greatest joy after all was that of Filina himself.
In the evening of that day, while they were sitting before the hut and Palko was blowing on the horn, suddenly Dr. H. stood before them. With evident pleasure he noticed the strange boy. Fido wagged his bushy tail in a friendly manner because more than once he had received a good bacon-rind from this kind gentleman. Dunaj, stretched out by the feet of his master, lifted his head also, but made no sound. He knew already whom to let alone and whom not. Formerly he would have jumped up and barked, and tested the long coat of the doctor to see if it was made of good material or not. Today, he would rather snap at a fly which paid with her life for daring to buzz around his nose. Well, the dogs did not give it away and the people did not notice that they had a listener, neither then nor even after Palko began to read in his Book, where there was written about the great man who was the captain of the taxgatherers, who had great riches and many friends, but did not have peace or happiness in his heart because he did not know the Lord Jesus. Palko read how the Lord Jesus spoke to him while he sat in the sycamore tree and invited Himself as his guest.
"Uncle Filina," suddenly Palko interrupted, when he came to the words of the Lord, 'The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost'—"If you simply do just like Zaccheus; and say to the Lord Jesus, 'This day is salvation come to this house,' that would be first, the house of your heart and then the whole hut. Uncle, I beg of you, receive Him today. Zaccheus received Him at once with joy, and how much greater joy did he find afterward when the Lord Jesus forgave him all his sins."
Surprised, the doctor looked at the strange boy and also at Bacha who arose and without a word entered the hut. Then Petrik noticed the guest; both the boys ran to welcome him and each one wanted to be the first to tell him who Palko was and what he was doing among them. The Doctor liked Palko, like everyone else who came in contact with him. Then the boys found out why the doctor had come that day. He wanted to find a cottage near the hut where he could place one of his patients for a week, whom only quietness and air and sun could heal.
"Palko, do you hear?" whispered Petrik, but so loud that all could hear him. "That cottage of yours is empty, your father will not come for six weeks, and you could live here with us; that would be a good place for the lady."
"What did you say, boy?" asked the doctor.
Ondrejko began to explain that Lesina had a cottage at the very foot of the "Old Hag's Rock," where the path led to town, and that at the present it was empty.
"Do you think, Palko," asked the doctor, "that your father would agree to lend us the cabin, if it would suit us?"
"Why would he not agree?" said the boy with shining eyes. "Does not the Lord Jesus say, 'I was sick, and ye visited Me?' If the cabin suits you I will give you the key. Just let the sick one come."
It was too late in the evening to go to see the place; so the boys prepared to go with the doctor early in the morning to the cottage.
This time the doctor did not sleep with the boys in the hayloft, because he spoke a long time with Filina. When Filina went to look at the boys, as it was his custom to do every evening, he stood above them a long time in deep thought, then he carefully covered Ondrejko, and sadly stroked his forehead, gently, as if he was very sorry for the boy. But why? Did he not look very lovely, somewhat browned from the sun, with beautiful roses on his velvet-like cheeks, and his small mouth as red as a poppy-flower. It was plainly noticeable how the mountain air and plain food were strengthening and healing him. His face also betrayed his inner happiness which the Lord Jesus had put in his heart. Why then was Bacha sorry for him?
During the night, a thunderstorm of short duration passed over the mountain. The spring morning broke very beautifully, as it can only after a storm. On the grass hung large pearls, and the leaves of the trees were full of diamonds as the sun shone on them. Everything sang praises to the Creator—every bird, every insect, and fly. The vapor rose like the smoke from a great sacrifice. No wonder then that Palko, leading their expedition, began to sing. Petrik gave a sigh, glanced at the doctor, thinking, "What will he say to that?" Ondrejko joyfully joined him, with his clear voice ringing like a golden bell. And thus it sounded over the mountains:
"Let us give thanks to God our heavenly King; To Him who loved and kept us, let us sing. To Him be given honor, glory, praise; To God, Eternal, let our voices raise. We pray, 'Be constantly with us this day And guard us from all evil by the way, That we may to Thy glory ever live, And blessings to our neighbors ever give; And when at last we reach the glory shore We know that we shall praise Thee evermore.'"
The doctor knew that song. He had learned it in his childhood. It made him add his own voice to those clear notes of the children. It may seem strange, but it is true, that nothing will refresh the mind like such an early morning song, sung whole-heartedly on such a beautiful morning, when all nature is joining in praises to the Creator, and at every step man feels His holy, pure, and shining nearness.
"Listen, Palko," the doctor said after a moment's silence when the song was finished; "do you understand what we have sung?"
"That song?" wondered the boy; "Isn't every word quite clear?"
"Do you think so? Then you explain it to us," smiled the doctor good-humoredly.
"Explain it? Why, we know well what the good Lord sent us during the past night, and we can walk sound and refreshed through this world, and that He is our King. We also know that He is the everlasting God."
"Well, that is so, but little children know that much. Go on."
"The third verse I like very much. He is already on the earth, always present with us, even now He goes with us, and so will protect us from evil all day long. I am very glad to see at least a small piece of His garment."
"Where do you see it?" asked Ondrejko.
"Just look how the rays of the sun shine around us. On every drop of dew you see a piece of the rainbow. That is the hem of His garment, and in that soft breeze, His Spirit is touching us. He is very near to us. Verily, He is a good Father. We cannot see Him just because we could not bear the full glory. What a man was Daniel! Yet he almost died when he saw Him. But also this verse is beautiful, 'That we may to Thy glory ever live.'"
"And how do you do that, you little doctor of theology?" said the doctor.
"I think," said Palko, "that just what we do today is pleasing to the Lord Jesus; we are going to look for a place for one of His sick sheep, and if you should like the cottage we will gladly take care of the necessary wood and flowers. It is clean already, even the windows are washed."
"You little wise man, and lo, surely there is that cabin of yours."
"Yes, yes," cried the boys. And Dunaj, as if he would confirm it, ran directly to the door.
"Listen, boy, that cottage of yours is just as if it had been built for that patient of mine," admitted Dr. H., after he had looked the cottage over inside and out. "I shall have some furniture brought here, carpets shall cover the floor, that it be not cold, and your bed and table we will put in the kitchen, that will be for her nurse. Though the windows are small there are three of them, so there will be plenty of sun all day long. And what surroundings! This beautiful valley with the background of green woods and high mountains! The spring is close to the house, and, too bad there is no bench beside it!"
The three boys cried, "We shall ask Bacha, and he will send Stephen."
"He can make a very beautiful bench," said Ondrejko. "We can go and watch the sheep for him in the meantime."
The doctor stroked the boy's golden hair. "I would like to see you turn in the sheep."
"But he would not have to do that," remarked Palko; "for that purpose we have Whitie and Playwell. They are very wise dogs."
"Well, now; we shall see what can be done. But the bench must be put here. I would like to taste that water."
Palko ran for the flowered pitcher and a cup. They all drank their fill. The water was excellent. Then they sat beside the brook, and the doctor pulled cheese and bread out of his pocket. Each of the boys had his own bread—and quite a big piece at that. When Bacha cut the bread, he counted also on the appetites of Dunaj and Fido. The doctor divided the cheese. They ate the cheese and bread, and drank water. It tasted good to all of them.
Dunaj did not move his eyes from Palko, who shared with him faithfully. Greedy Fido ran from one comrade to the other and even sat down in front of the doctor, and not in vain. But when he came near Palko, Dunaj growled at him, which certainly in a dog's language meant, "Are you not ashamed?" So Fido did not try it a second time.
The doctor saw how the children enjoyed their food and noticed that Ondrejko also ate with a good appetite. He suddenly began to say, "Palko, you said that you would carry wood to the cottage. That will not be necessary. I will have a cord of wood brought and cut, but if you would take care of bringing the flowers that would be very good. The lady is to drink whey. As long as she is weak you could also bring that to her every morning. As soon as she is strong enough she will have to go to the sheepfold herself, and ask for it at the hut. Now, what do you say? Will you help me so that she will get better soon?"
They all heartily agreed that they would do it.
"I will tell you what is the matter with her. For a long time she made day out of night, but she could not change the day into night. Thus she lacked many nights' rest. Now she would like to sleep, but she cannot! She is a sad, unhappy person, and has lived to see much sorrow. It will be well if you help me to cheer her up; then she will recover sooner."
"And does the lady understand Slovak?" fearlessly asked Palko. The doctor smote his forehead.
"You are a wise little fellow, boy. I didn't think of that. But wait! I overheard when she bought oranges, she spoke in Czech. Then you will be able to understand each other. Do you want to help me, boys?"
"We would like to very much," said Ondrejko.
"If Bacha will permit us," added Petrik. Palko thought that nothing would hinder him as long as he was there.
In good spirits the boys returned to the sheepcote. The doctor left them at the "Old Hag's Rock." They took from him a closely-written note for Bacha Filina, who readily enough agreed to everything. He even sent Stephen to build the bench, and also gave permission to the boys to carry whey and flowers to the sick lady.
Again it was Sunday. That day no one from the hut went to church. Very early in the morning they read a part of the Word of God, sang a song, prayed, and everybody went his way. Filina had an invitation from the manager of the Gemer estate. He had to go to the castle, and the boys said they would go to Palko's cottage, not to enter, because the doctor had the key, but to see if the wood had been already brought and where the draymen had stacked it. But who can describe their surprise when they reached the cottage. They saw all the windows open and on the kitchen-table sat a large white cat. The fur around her head looked like a cap. Her eyes were blue and round like those of an owl. Her long broad tail hung out of the window. Around her neck she had a band decorated with small pearls, and a small gilt bell was hanging from it. When they saw her they were glad they had not brought the dogs along. Fido went with his master and Dunaj was somewhere roaming in the woods.
"Someone must live here already," remarked the surprised Ondrejko.
"Really, so it is. The cat would not be sitting there by herself," added Palko. They walked carefully around the cottage. In the yard they found the wood already cut and stacked. Then they took counsel together. If the ladies had already come, they must find flowers for them. The boys calculated that by the time they would return, the new inhabitants of the cottage would be up.
When they returned, in about an hour, each one had a large bouquet of flowers and foliage. Palko arranged them for all three. He was already a master in that work. Ondrejko carried his bouquet before him with both hands, so that he could hardly see the path in front. Petrik carried his bouquet over his shoulder. He was the first to notice that the door was open and smoke was coming from the chimney.
The next moment an elderly lady with a black dress and white cap stepped into the doorway. Her otherwise good-looking face bore evidence of much care, and she looked distressed, seeming to say, "What shall I do now?"
"She certainly needs something," said Palko, as the boys ran toward the cottage.
To their greeting, the lady answered in the Czech language. Her kind face brightened as she looked at the boys and their large bouquets.
"Are you the nurse of the sick lady?" Palko began. "We promised the doctor that we would bring flowers, so we have brought them now. They are wilted, but if you put them in the brook they will freshen up."
"Thank you very kindly. My lady will be glad."
Taking the flowers from the boys, the lady placed their ends in the brook.
"Since you are not familiar here, perhaps you will need something that you cannot find in the woods," Palko said thoughtfully. "We shall be glad to serve you; just let us know."
"I shall be very thankful, boys, if you will help me. We have brought everything except salt and bread, which we do not have, because the bag in which the eatables were, must have been left in the coach. We came late last night instead of this morning, so the doctor did not accompany us, and my surroundings are still strange."
"We will bring some salt and bread. Our hut is near by," Petrik cried zealously. "Also the whey will be ready. Come on, Ondrejko."
"Are they to bring us milk and bread from the hut?" inquired the lady.
"That will be from us," Ondrejko assured her. "But we have to go at once so that we can return soon."
"I will stay with you," decided Palko, "because the cottage belongs to my father. Although you may be used to having things arranged differently, I may be able to show you where you can put one thing and another."
"So this is your cottage? Then you can advise me where to put everything that we have brought along. What shall we call you?"
"Palko Lesina. The other boy is Petrik Filina, and the third one is Ondrejko de Gemer."
"What is his name?" asked the lady, startled.
"De Gemer. The sheepfolds belong to his father. The doctor sent Ondrejko to Bacha Filina because he was weak. Here he thrives well. From the time that he has lived as we live and not like a gentleman, he has been getting well and strong. And how about your lady; could she sleep last night?"
"Oh, my poor lady!" sobbed the elderly woman. "If she only knew. I don't know whether she slept in the night, but now she sleeps as she has not slept for a long time. Come, Palko, enter softly."
It was good that there was a hall between the bedroom and the kitchen, for thus the sleeper was not disturbed. Palko proved to be a very good helper. From the kitchen which looked like a county fair, they carried away trunks, bags, coverings, raincoats, and towels, into the clean storage room, which the lady had not yet discovered. Some things they laid on the shelves which Lesina had already put up, and others were hung on nails on the wall. One of the trunks, the lady emptied. In it were the china and all the kitchen utensils. These Palko carried at once to the new kitchen cupboard. Some things he hung up near the stove. One of the table-cloths he spread over the table. After he had found the broom which his father had made from the branches that he had cut and brought, he swept the kitchen, for with the carrying in of so many things, much dirt had accumulated. He ran with the pitcher for water, and placing one of the bouquets in it, set it on the covered table. Just as he had finished, his comrades came running, hot and perspiring. Ondrejko carried the crock with a narrow neck, completely covered with braided straw, and the covered can of milk. Petrik carried quite a heavy bundle on his back.
When the nurse returned from the storeroom she could hardly believe her eyes. On the table on a wooden plate lay the black-bread, salt was in a new wooden bowl, cheese in a dish, on a plate there was fresh golden butter, and in a can, milk. The fire that had gone out in the kitchen stove, was burning brightly now. The boys sat on the bench by the window, Palko standing in front of them.
"Are you already here, my children?" asked the nurse; "and what have you brought?"
"Bread and salt, as you have asked. The whey is in the crock. The milk we brought for you, because you are not sick," explained Petrik.
Ondrejko added, "It may be that your lady will not want to drink the whey today, and that you will make coffee instead, for yourself."
"For you," Petrik added, "there is also butter and cheese. Palko is able to do this because some day all this around here will be his."
The boys were surprised when the eyes of the nurse suddenly filled with tears. She wiped them off and kissed the small messengers.
"You are right, Ondrejko, today I will fix coffee, and you all will take breakfast with me. In the meantime perhaps my lady will be up."
Before the coffee was finished, the boys found out that the nurse's name was Moravec and that they could call her Aunty; that she was born in the mountains of northern Bohemia in just such a cottage as this. She went to America with her parents, and was married there, but when her husband died, and not having her own daughter any more, she had served this lady ten years, and took care of her like her own child. Before the boys realized it, each had in front of him a beautiful cup with a golden edge, full of fragrant coffee, and a big piece of Bohemian bun. After all, they had found the seemingly lost bag, and really, it would have been a pity if the good Bohemian buns had been lost!
Just as their breakfast was finished, the sound of a silver bell was heard from the room. Aunty ran in quickly, like a young girl.
"Perhaps it is time for us to go," advised Petrik. Ondrejko looked at Palko to see what he would say. He had succeeded in attracting the beautiful cat to him. She sat beside him on the bench, and with her front paws, like a squirrel, took the dipped bun from him. Now she was even sitting on his knees and was purring.
"We cannot leave these dishes thus, when they were dirtied by us. She has no help here," said Palko.
So he ran with a tin bucket for water, and Petrik ran to bring wood. In the meantime Ondrejko remained alone in the kitchen, when the doors of the bedroom opened. At first he heard the voice of Aunty—and then another. The blood rushed to his head, the voice was so clear and so beautiful. Oh, such mysterious recollections, as from times so distant, very distant, as if from the secrets of long past remembrances! What they said he did not understand. The cat wriggled out of his hands, lifted its long tail and jumped to the door. The door was not fully closed and she opened it with one paw and disappeared before the eyes of the surprised boy. He was not even aware of it. He was so fully taken up with the voice that he did not hear any more. The boys' coming disturbed and awakened him.
Palko washed the dishes, Petrik dried them; they put everything away, and disappeared as quietly as they could.
Seven days passed. How short! but sometimes how long seven days may be! How much one can live through, experience, and suffer! Time passes; you awaken, wipe your eyes, and wonder if it is true that it has passed already.
Even thus Ondrejko de Gemer, wandering through the woods, wondered if all was true that had passed in the last seven days, or if it was merely a dream. Oh, it was no dream, really. She came, the sick lady. Truly, she lived in Palko's cottage and though Ondrejko had carried the whey there already three times he had not seen her. Aunty always said that she was asleep, and must sleep very much. Ah, why did she always sleep just when he came? She had spoken already to Petrik, and gave him a box full of candy. Palko had already read to her from his Book, and had told her that she was almost as beautiful as his mother at home; Ondrejko, alone, had not seen her yet.
How much he had prayed already, especially that morning, that she might not be asleep again when he went there, that he also might welcome her to those woods and mountains. Formerly Ondrejko didn't think of it, but he did now, when the herdsmen, especially Stephen, again and again reminded him that these sheepfolds were his father's, and therefore his also, and that he had a rightful claim to everything. When they gave him cheese and butter for the lady, they gave him plenty, saying, "Just take it; it is yours." This thought seemed to appeal to him—all is ours. If Palko could say "our cottage," why could not Ondrejko say, "our sheepfolds, our land, and our woods? Oh, then she came to us though she lived in the cottage of Palko. When she gets stronger she will come to us to drink whey from our sheep."
Lost in his meditation, the boy did not realize that he had come to the parting of the paths, one of which turned above to the "Old Hag's Rock," and the other, below to the cottage in the valley. The weather was again so clear that from the green clearings in the woods you could hear the great bells of the rams and the little ones of the sheep.
"There is the ringing of the bells of our sheep," smiled the happy Ondrejko. He ran quickly to the bench, intending to sit upon it and rest, but he did not do so for it was occupied by someone like one of the fairies from the woods of which Stephen often told him, that on St. John's Night came out of the "Old Hag's Rock" and danced on the meadows. None of them could be more beautiful than the lady sitting on the bench, with its firm back covered with a flowery blanket; a similar cushion lay on the arm-rest, and on the cushion rested a white arm. On the small narrow palm a forehead was resting, and beautiful dark-gray eyes looked far away above the mountains.
The boy set down the crock and folded his arms.
Thus he looked at the lily-white face, and the lips which seemed as if the Lord God had made just for song. And again his heart felt as if someone carried him far, far away, into the land of remembrances. It is too bad that the lady, covered with a light yellow Cashmere shawl does not look at the boy. Is he not also good-looking? and how beautiful! On Saturday the doctor sent him a new suit, almost the same kind as Palko had, but the shirt was embroidered with flowers, with broad sleeves, narrow pants, decorated sandals, a round hat with bands, and a small embroidered bag. Petrik also received a new suit, the kind that he used to wear. Ondrejko was very glad that now he would be altogether like his comrades. When they were all three in the church yesterday, the people looked around at them.
If the lady would only look this way! Surely she never saw such a beautiful little Slovak! But she did not look. At last, the boy came to himself. Oh, surely, it must be she!—surely, herself! Who else would be sitting on his bench? And she had that beautiful cat beside her. Here she was, already up, and he was just bringing her breakfast. He was late! Oh, he knew it was necessary for the whey to be warm. When, then, will she eat her breakfast?
He took courage and greeted her. The lady aroused herself, opened her big eyes, and in surprise looked at the boy timidly drawing near.
"Good morning," greeted Ondrejko. "I am bringing you the whey, but surely too late. However, I have hurried quite a bit, therefore please do not be angry at me."
"Do you bring me my breakfast?" the lady asked astonished. She arose and took the heavy crock out the hand of the boy. "It must be very heavy for you."
"It was not," said Ondrejko, more at ease, as he fastened his beautiful eyes on the lady's face. Oh, how happy he was that finally he too could see her, and that she talked with him and even took him by the hand.
"And what is your name?"
"Ondrejko," he replied.
"And do you live here at these sheepfolds?"
"Yes," said he, "I live with Bacha Filina. I like it very much."
The lady walked with the boy and he carried the crock. She was small in stature, but every movement reminded one of a princess.
"Why did not Petrik or Palko bring this whey?" she asked, to start a conversation with Ondrejko.
"We change about," said he.
"Change about? But I have never seen you before."
"I have carried the whey already three times, but you have always been asleep," said Ondrejko.
"So, I have always been asleep during your visits? Therefore I will not leave you quickly today. You must rest with us. Look, Aunty is already waiting." The lady stopped and almost joyfully handed the crock to Aunty Moravec.
"Look who brought the whey for us today, but you are already acquainted. We have seen each other for the first time now! Please prepare a good breakfast for my guest." The hands of Aunty shook somewhat when she received the crock, and she hastened to heat the whey at once.
Who could have told Ondrejko how the Lord Jesus would answer his prayer? Petrik saw the lady only in the kitchen, but she took him into her room. How beautifully she had things arranged there! A plush sofa and arm-chair, and many such things as they had in the castle de Gemer were in the room. He was permitted to sit with her on the sofa and look over a large book with photographs, all of beautiful lands and cities. She pointed them out and named them.
"And you have been in all these places?" he dared to ask.
A sad expression clouded her face. "Yes, I have, Ondrejko, but now I have only one wish—to remain forever in these mountains and never again have to look at that evil, deceitful world outside."
After a while Aunty brought breakfast. Ondrejko had to sit down at the beautifully-covered table. He was used to praying before eating in the hut, so he did it now also, and in the joy which overflowed his heart, he added, "I thank Thee, dear Lord Jesus, that You have so kindly answered me."
The lady had already lifted the cup to her lips, but she set it down again, and as if ashamed, bowed her head too. A tear appeared on her golden eyelashes. When the boy had finished eating, she asked him what he had asked Jesus Christ for. He confessed how much he had desired to see her, and that he almost envied his comrades. Then he asked permission to look also into the other book which lay on a small table. It was full of photographs of people. He looked at her out of the corner of his eye, because about ten of them were pictures of herself, but she was dressed in all kinds of strange costumes. In one of the pictures she had on a loose dress like a cloak and a crown on her head. Under the picture was printed, "Mary Slavkovsky as Marie Stuart." The boy rested his curly head on his small palms, and thought.
"Why do you look so much at that picture?" said the lady, stroking his golden curls.
"Is this really you in all these pictures? Have you perhaps played in a theatre?" said Ondrejko.
She was astonished. "What do you know about theatres? Have you perhaps been in one of them?"
"No," he shook his head. "That could not be possible. I have not been." The boy's face saddened.
"What do you mean, Ondrejko?" said the lady, drawing him nearer to her.
"Oh, my mother also is pictured in photographs, but I shall never see her again."
"Your mother?" said she, wonderingly. "Is she not a country woman?"
"Oh, no!" The eyes of the boy glowed. "She is a famous singer, but I shall not see her again, because she has forgotten me long ago—and so I have nobody to look after me, no mother, no father, although I was adjudged to him. I used to be very sad about it, but since Palko came to us, and I believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, and received Him in my heart, I am no more just a forsaken orphan, because He loves me, and He it with me." The boy stopped because the lady became very pale, and the arm with which she had caressed him, fell down and a deep sigh escaped her lips.
"Aunty!" cried the scared boy, and not in vain. Aunty Moravec ran into the room. She washed the deathly-pale face of the lady with some kind of fine-smelling water. She placed a cushion under her head and put her feet on the sofa. After a while, the lady began to breathe better again. Aunty took the boy by the hand and led him to the kitchen. At his anxious questioning she told him only that the lady was still very weak and must rest. Ondrejko repeated to her what they had been speaking about together. At hearing this, Aunty sighed and caressed him, and said, "It is all in vain. It had to come and the sooner the better." She did not hinder Ondrejko from going home, but did not allow him to carry the crock.
"Send Palko, in the afternoon. He promised to take the lady to you. From tomorrow on, she is to come to your sheepfold to drink the whey. The doctor ordered that."
"But is she not sick?" the boy said, showing some anxiety.
"She is not sick any more, only weak, and this weakness she must overcome by walking," responded Aunty.
In this world there is no sweetness without bitterness. If something strange had not happened, that boy would have returned home very proud and happy. Thus Bacha Filina found him not far away, all in tears, and when he took him into his strong arms like a little lamb, the boy threw both arms around his neck and told him everything.
"Bacha, I have surely said something bad, though I really don't know what, and she became very sad about it," cried Ondrejko.
"Do not cry," the man comforted him. "You said only what the Lord God put in your mouth. Anyway, when the lady comes in the afternoon, all will be well again."
With these words, the Bacha carried the tired boy to his wooden hut, laid him on the bed, and sat beside him. He stroked his arm and forehead, and before long he had put his little charge to sleep. Then he looked at him once more, sadly, and left. About half-an-hour later the herdsmen found him dressed in his Sunday suit going in the direction of the "Old Hag's Rock." They thought he was going to town, and wondered why, because he had been there only yesterday.
At the same time, bitter crying sounded in Palko's cottage, which Aunty Moravec could in no way silence. There the weeping lady said, "He was here; he, my beautiful golden-headed child, and I did not know him. The heavy crock he brought to me himself. He wanted to see me, but did not recognize me. How could he, when I myself did not know him? That his own mother forgot him long ago is not true. All the glory of the world could not replace my lost treasure. Oh, my father, my father! If you only knew what became of your daughter! You taught her to fold her hands in prayer, but she forgot everything—even that. Unfortunate, betrayed wife, craven mother! If you only knew how your warnings have been literally fulfilled!"
The lady cried bitterly. There was no comfort for her. Usually there is none for the son or daughter who has trampled the good advice of his parents under his feet and after that has had to suffer everything which has been foretold them.
Finally Aunty went out. She heard steps in the hall. After a while she returned asking if Bacha Filina might enter, that he would like to speak of something important with the lady.
In a moment Bacha was in the room. "I have come, Madame Slavkovsky, to talk with you," he began seriously. "It is time to make an end to the sin, which for years you have already committed as to my little charge. The doctor told me that you are his mother, and my lord is his father. Now is this tender, sensitive child to grow up as somebody said: 'Whether father or mother, whether sister or brother, nobody comes to welcome me'?" The man spoke seriously.
The lady stretched out her hands towards him imploringly. "What can I do? They took him away from me and adjudged him to De Gemer. My lawyer did everything that he could, but in vain."
"But would you love him, would you like to take care of him as it behooves a decent mother, if my lord would return him to you?"
"Why would I not! I deserve that you ask me that. Whether you believe me or not, Bacha Filina, I would give everything if I could only get him back again. I see he loves me, unworthy though I am."
"Yes, he loves you as only forsaken children know how to do. Therefore I came to you, lady—today or never God gives you an opportunity to get your treasure back again. Your former husband fell deeply into debt. His administrator received the order to sell the estate of the De Gemer family. If you have enough money—the doctor told me that you have—buy it out of the first hands before the Jews get hold of it. When your lawyer writes him that you will have the estate turned over to the boy, if Lord de Gemen will give it to you in black and white, he will be glad to do so, I know, and will give you the boy. He always boasted that the 'De Gemer' estate shall belong to Ondrejko, his first-born. Everybody in the neighborhood knows about it. It would not be such a great shame on the family, that they had to sell the family castle, if, after all, the property remained in his son's hands. It is a beautiful estate, and it is wisely managed. It will bring a much larger income later on, than it does today. Even if you had to borrow some money to purchase it, it would be worthwhile to do so."
"Oh, Bacha Filina!" The lady took the man's hard right hand into her small ones. "How can I thank you enough for this good and beautiful advice? I don't know if my ready money will suffice, but I have beautiful jewelry, and when I sell that, we will have something to start with at least. I am not altogether so unfamiliar with managing as you may think; I am the daughter of a farmer. But who will buy this for me? My lawyer is not here."
"Leave Ondrejko with the doctor. Ride to the administrator's office and buy the estate yourself. He has orders to sell it. Do not begin to deal about the boy before the estate is yours. At least, that is what I think. But today let Ondrejko know that you are his mother, that the boy may not suffer longer. Come to us in the afternoon. I will send Palko for you."
Filina arose. "I would not have come to you while you are still weak, but we must hurry with the buying, and Ondrejko cared so much that he shook all over, thinking that surely he had said something bad to you so that you fainted. The boy is very tender. He needs not only strengthening with me—that is only for the body—but his heart needs a mother. The God in the heavens has become his Father. Good-bye, then."
"Bacha Filina," the lady stopped the man. "Do you know why I parted with De Gemer? Or do you think that because I am a singer, I have left him like an unfaithful wife?"
"The doctor told me that my lord had wronged you. I do not ask more. Everyone of us has enough of his own sins. God sees us and knows us. Do not judge that ye be not judged." The deep voice of Filina sounded almost gentle. He shook her hand and left.
* * * * *
"Uncle Filina! Did you already return from the city?" sounded a voice from the clearing where he went to look at the flock. Palko ran to meet him. In his hand he carried a basket full of beautiful mushrooms.