The Country That I Love by Marie Queen of Rumania

CHAPTER 5

ROUMANIAN GYPSIES


OVER hill and dale, over field, forest and plain, over all that we have loved and lost, spring must be sowing her many-coloured mantle of promise. Even over the places where the brave have fallen, the grass must be sprouting, all the greener, perchance, because the earth has been watered by so much blood. Almost golden in their transparency, the first tender leaves of the trees must be filling our lost gardens with the enchantment of beauties that last but a day. Flowers, many flowers must be springing up everywhere; let us hope they are also blooming upon the graves of the dead.

War cannot prevent irises from blooming in purple perfection, nor the tulips from rising like flames towards the sun. Battle and flames will not be able to crush all beauty from out of the world; somewhere its destruction must end, some corner must have been spared, some peaceful spots must still imagine that spring brings with her her usual message of joy!

There is a garden that I long for, a garden that I love, a garden in which, even before it was mine, I used to roam. Its long, shady avenues, its grass-grown paths, its sleeping waters had for me the attraction of things, of dreams. I revelled in its solitude, in the spell of its leafy groves, that filled me with a feeling of rest.

An old gentleman I had never met was master of this garden; in his youth he had loved the place, some dear dream had he dreamed there beneath the mystery of its shadowy trees.

A sad old house stands in this garden, a house which seems haunted by strange remembrances that fill it with gloom. When the old man died he left me house and garden. Moved by the thought that I loved its solitude, he preferred that the place should be mine. He had no children, and was afraid that others might not cherish the spot that had been dear to his youth. Thus the park, with its fine old trees and weed-grown paths, became mine—the first piece of ground I ever possessed in my own right!

A feeling of pride filled my soul and with it wondrous visions of beauty. I saw my garden gradually turning into a paradise of ever-changing colour. Every season was to have had its flower, planted in such profusion that there would have been whole stretches of bloom.

Entranced, we were to have wandered through meadows purple with irises of varied shades, sown in such masses that even over the roads they would have run riot in glorious bloom. As to the roses, so great was to have been their abundance that they would have trailed their flower-laden branches down over the waters, staining the banks with broad streaks of red!

Scarlet poppies in fiery patches would have attracted the eye from afar, and in the earlier season narcissi in uncounted numbers were to have covered the under-wood, giving the illusion of tardy snow, whilst the golden daffodils would have filled the copses with a blaze as though the ground had been strewn with light!

As to the old house, its face was to have been modified to a sweeter simplicity, for, although abandoned in a weed-grown garden, far from the noise of the world, it had tried to give itself an air of importance it did not really possess. I meant to have harmonized its lines, removing all efforts at false decoration, turning it into a dwelling, simple, white and dignified, such as in earlier centuries this country used to build. Low, broad and massive, thus did I see it, full of repose, the ugly tin roof replaced by a roof of shingle with far-projecting eaves.

I had even planned a secret little garden paved with stone, walled in like cloister courts. I saw them full of flowers, surrounding deep pools of water, cool and fresh for the summer heat. My plans were all ready, daily would I pore over them, building up dream upon dream—but did not begin my work and always was my refrain: It will be for after the war! . . .

Other dreams did I also cherish, more practical and perhaps less selfish: I was going to develop the love of gardening amongst the villagers, instituting prizes for those who most faithfully grew vegetables and fruit. I had plans for lending them pieces of my own ground if they showed themselves active and capable of work. My modest little Copaceni was to have become a corner of civilization, where each man would have rejoiced over the labour of his hand. This was also to have been after the war . . . after the war! . . .

Now my garden has been torn from me and nothing remains but my dreams. In thoughts I still wander beneath my favourite weeping willows, down through the little wood over the rustic bridge to the water's edge. There I remain watching the Arges roll its troubled waters away out of sight.

I hear the nightingales' voices, the buzz of a thousand bees—all is peace and quiet—I am alone with my dreams. . . .

I remember a night a few years ago, a hot summer's night, a real Roumanian night, resonant with the far-off barking of dogs, a-thrill with the nightingales' songs, I and another had come down to the river's edge to watch the Arges, silvered by the rays of the moon.

Dove-grey was the world, dove-grey was the sky. Like ghosts the willows stood in rows, dipping their long branches into the water that ran rippling over their roots.

Pale with the pallor of the dead, the moon looked down upon our silence. Calm and indifferent, accustomed to the spell in which she ever and again enwraps the hearts of men, she lent us her light, herself but an everlasting spectator of emotions in which she takes no part.

With eyes of fire the stars stared at her superior radiance, dotting the heavens with spots of light—a night of beauty, a night of peace—and how far my thoughts from visions of war. . . .

All that has changed—all that has passed! What remains now of my garden? I know not!

Was its grass-grown silence disturbed by sounds of battle? Were its noble old trees shot to pieces by whizzing shells ? Did its sleeping waters quiver beneath the roar of battle? For this I know, it was along the road which passes my lonely garden that the invading armies swept towards our town.

In melting away, what picture of devastation did the winter snows reveal! Has the garden of my dreams been turned into a desert? Or by some unheard-of miracle has it been spared amidst the storm? I know not!

Will I return one day to its mystic shade, go down once again to the slow-flowing waters that limit its boundaries, hear the nightingales sing in its copses, watch once again the moon silver the Arges flowing by Will I sow my flowers, restore my house and make of my garden a corner of peace and progress, or is it all to be but a dream that a great tragedy has swallowed up with so much else? I know not!

How many must be thinking of homes they have left, of gardens they have loved, of dreams they have dreamed, wondering if there will be a rebeginning, wondering if hearts will be strong enough to build up that which has fallen down!

But this I know: if we are destined ever to return to our forsaken hearths, we shall be as a troop of wanderers, who, having survived a great flood, have been washed clean of much that hampered our footsteps and blinded our eyes. We shall better understand the value of what we possessed, love it better, even if we find it in ruins.

Hard no doubt is the work of building up anew, but it can but be blessed work if we do it with hands purified by the fire of sorrow and sacrifice through which we have passed. I believe that the great trial that has come over us may be a guide-post showing us a greater and cleaner way. Then let us hope, for "Faith removeth mountains"; let us therefore have Faith.

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Before I close this chapter I would talk of an evening I shall never forget, of a summer's evening, just before war was declared.

Though the heat was overpowering the King and I had remained in town, unable to leave our capital at a moment when storm-clouds were gathering ever darker on our frontiers. A heavy feeling of gloom brooded over all things; hearts were uneasy, spirits were troubled, and not least troubled was the heart of the King.

Those were days of throbbing anxiety; we knew that the wing of war was already hovering near our country, and, like two anxious parents, we watched the horizon, feeling that the Hour of Fate was nearing, that naught could now stay the storm that must break over our land.

Restless were the King's nights, sleep avoided him, his soul was torn by doubt. Was it the right moment? If he drew the sword would it be for the good of the country? Would the word he had to say, the word that would cut him off from all the loves of yore, would that word lead his people towards the accomplishment of their Golden Dream?

That was the mountain-high problem that stood by his bed at night, the world-heavy weight that weighed on his breast, that he had to carry with him wherever he went. . . .

So as to make those days of enervating suspense less deadly, I used to propose long drives towards evening, at the hour when the sun was low.

We both conceived a strange places as though fearing never to see them again—places that we had discovered in the happy days of our youth.

We remembered here a church and there a ruin, tiny hamlets by the edge of rivers, undulating plains leading towards the banks of the Danube, long, long roads passing many villages, shady corners of peaceful "Luncas"1 where shepherds guarded their flocks. It was all infinitely dear to us and doubly dear at that hour when we felt danger so near.

On the evening I remember, the heat was oppressive, almost stifling; no breath moved the air. The dust raised by our motor, and by the passing carts we met, hung like a thick veil over the earth—the landscape was all blurred by it, resembling a pastel half rubbed out.

There was something breathless and throbbing about the atmosphere well in keeping with the uneasiness of our hearts, which felt oppressed by emotions too complex for words. We ached with the great love for our country and with the apprehension of what was to come.

The peasants were bringing in the harvest; cart after cart came towards us through the dust, like phantoms rising out of a dream, some heaped with swaying pyramids of golden corn, some with scarlet tomatoes, smooth and shining like giant gems. Little children sat on the creaking shafts, gleefully cracking their whips, whilst men and women walked beside them, their faces bronzed from constant toil beneath the broiling sun. In never-ending file they came towards us, patient and peaceful, a picture of abundance and content.

Mile after mile did our motor consume, yet the roads stretched before us endless in their dusty length. We seemed to be chasing time, no word did we speak, but our eyes absorbed each dear vision, our souls were hungry for the things we loved. On, on, into the golden evening; on, on, towards the setting sun. . . .

The shadows were lengthening, one felt the summer night quite near, but never had dust more dense weighted the motionless air. It rolled over the earth, it hung in the heavens, hiding the horizon, enveloping man, beast and tree, oppressing our lungs, blinding our eyes, stifling our throats with a thickness we could not breathe, yet on, on in a sort of trance we hurried, on, on, towards the setting sun. . . .

A fantastic drive, that drive through the dust with something of a nightmare about it, in keeping with the foreboding that tortured our souls.

All at once through that haze which made of the world a mystery, the sun loomed large and strangely near. A gigantic ball of fire, formidable and uncanny, a vision belonging to fevered dreams.

We stopped for a moment our headlong flight, to watch its weird orange beauty, overcome by so strange a sight—when from out of the dust a voice rose beside us: " It is a war sun—a bloody sun—a sign of battle ! " Who had spoken? Was it our own thoughts—or was it human voice?

We peered through the dust; an old peasant stood beside us, with shaking finger pointing at the sun. "A war sun!" And we knew that the old peasant had spoken aloud our thoughts. . .

1Woods at the rivers' edge.