The Country That I Love by Marie Queen of Rumania

CHAPTER 3


FOR the eye of the indifferent there is but very little beauty in the plains around Bucarest. They are flat, dusty, treeless, and whilst the snow is melting they are often but vast lakes of mud.

It was not all at once that I learned to care for them. I had come from a land of green pastures and grand-spreading trees. The arid nakedness of those fields I at first found hard to bear. I longed for meadows; I longed for shade; but little by little my eyes opened to see the beauties that at first I had ignored.

Indifferent to the weather's inclemencies, I have ridden over them in all seasons. I minded neither fog, wind, nor rain; snowstorms could not keep me at home, nor the torrid summer suns.

I loved to wander far from trodden paths, to discover places few had ever seen. In winter I have galloped over limitless stretches of snow when sky and earth blended, when there seemed to be no boundaries, no horizon, only a vague infinite of white that went on, and on, and on.

My horse's hoofs would mark a small trail behind me; often I felt sorry thus to desecrate the immaculate sheet of snow.

Such was the silence around me that it pressed like a weight on my head; it was overpowering, it almost made me afraid. Now and again a flight of crows would wing low over the skies, their melancholy cawing intensifying the solitude into which I had wandered so far from the dwellings of men.

After long winter months intense was the joy of awakening spring. I knew where the earliest flowers could be found; miles would I ride to pluck the first golden crocus, to rejoice over a blue carpet of scilla in a far-away wood. I loved the first haze of green over the willows; I knew of solitary spots where they stood in groups, letting their weeping branches trail over quick-flowing waters swollen by melting snows.

I knew of a tiny church by a river's edge, a church so old and rustic that its wooden walls hardly held together. It stood all forlorn in the middle of a graveyard strewn with low stone crosses growing out of the ground like the ghosts of unknown plants.

Ancient was the chapel, ancient were also the crosses, mostly without names, but the yellow and mauve crocuses that ran riot between them were young with the youth of spring.

Long would I stand contemplating the humble beauty of the place, strangely moved by the charm of so much artless perfection, yet unconsciously apprehending that it was destined to disappear, and wondering if those who had erected the sanctuary had in any way realized that its lines were exquisite and its position a joy to the artist's eye.

In later years often have I searched for this crumbling little church, but it has vanished from the face of the earth as beautiful things, alas, are destined to vanish, for time moves on and has no care for things doomed to fall to pieces and disappear, especially those lowly things hidden away in places of which scarcely anyone knows the name. Like so much else, the little church is now but a memory that has place in my heart. . . with memories of other things that have fallen to pieces and are no more. . . .

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I have also the vision of many a village with fruit trees in fullest bloom; I see the glory of their flower-laden branches stretching athwart the radiant sky, magic white wands against an infinite vault of blue. . . . One day I remember wandering from village to village, knowing that all the plum trees would be in flower, with the sole intention of absorbing into my soul that marvellous enchantment of white and blue ; the birds were singing, the lambs were bleating, the air was full of flying petals, floating everywhere like large flakes of snow.

A shepherd came slowly sauntering along, driving his sheep before him ; like a moving cloud a hazy veil of dust went with him, so that he passed me like a dream, his dogs walking beside him, and a patient donkey with empty sacks on its back solemnly bringing up the rear.

Next came an old gipsy woman, picturesque and filthy, staff in hand, draped in rags, limping and dishevelled.

Old as the hills was the gipsy woman, but her sordid silhouette still retained strange lines of beauty. A white clay pipe was in the corner of her mouth; she grinned at me, extending a bony palm in hopes of a penny.

The old woman passed and others came along the road; carts dragged by stone-grey oxen, labourers going to their work, and little children who sang and laughed and were merry. A mother came along carrying a babe in her arms, a tiny urchin toddling beside her, closely followed by a youth with flashing teeth, seated on a horse without a saddle.

Over the white-powdered road they trudged, the sky smiling down upon them, and all around the trees were in bloom and in every branch the birds were singing. . . the world was young and my heart was happy. . . but all that is past! is past. . . .