My Country by Marie Queen of Rumania

Once I was riding through the melting snow. The road I was following, like all Rumanian roads, was long, long, endlessly long, dwindling away in the distance, becoming one with the colourless sky.

It was a day of depression, a day of thaw, when the world is at its worst.

All around me the flat plains lay waiting for something that did not come. The landscape appeared to be without horizon, to possess no frontiers: all was dully uniform, without life, without light, without joy. Silence lay over the earth—silence and dismal repose.

With loose reins and hanging heads my horse and I trudged along through the slush. We were going nowhere in particular; a sort of torpor of indifference had come over us, well in keeping with the melancholy of the day.

A damp fog hung like a faded veil close over the earth; it was not a dense fog, but wavered about like steam.

All of a sudden, I heard a weird sound coming towards me out of the distance, something the like of which I had never heard before. . . .

Drawing in my reins, I stood still at the edge of the road wondering what I was to see.

Unexpected indeed was the procession that, like a strange dream, was coming towards me from out the mist!

Wading through the melting snow advanced two small boys, carrying between them a round tin platter on which lay a flat cake; behind them came an old priest carrying a cross in his hand, gaudily attired in faded finery—red, gold and blue. His heavy vestment was all splashed and soiled, his long hair and unkempt beard were dirty-grey, like the road upon which he walked. A sad old man, with no expression but that of misery upon his yellow shrunken face.

Close behind his heels followed a rough wooden cart drawn by oxen whose noses almost touched the ground; their breath formed small clouds about their heads, through which their eyes shone with patient anxiety.

It was from this cart that the weird sound was rising. What could it be? Then all at once I understood!

A plain deal coffin had been placed in the middle of the cart; seated around it were a number of old women, wailing and weeping, raising their voices in a dismal chant, that rang like a lament through the air. Their white hair was dishevelled, and their black veils floated around them like thin wisps of smoke.

Behind the cart walked four old gipsies playing doleful tunes upon their squeaky violins, whilst the women's voices took up the refrain in another key. Never had I heard dirge more mournful, nor more lugubrious a noise. Pressing after the gipsies came a knot of barefooted relatives, holding lighted tapers in their hands. The tiny flames looked almost ashamed of burning so dimly in the melancholy daylight.

In passing, these weary mortals raised pale faces, looking at me with mournful eyes that expressed no astonishment. Through the gloomy mist they appeared to be so many ghosts, come from nowhere, going towards I know not what. Like shadows they passed and were gone; . . . but through the gathering fog the wailing came back to haunt me, curiously persistent, as though the dead from his narrow coffin were calling for help. . . .

Long after this strange vision had disappeared, I stood gazing at the road where traces of their feet had remained imprinted upon the melted snow. Had it all been but an hallucination, created by the melancholy of the day?

As I turned my horse I was confronted by a shadow looming large at a little distance down the road. What could it be? Was this a day of weird apparitions?

It was not without difficulty that I induced my horse to approach the spot; verily, I think that sometimes horses see ghosts! . . .

On nearing, I perceived that what had frightened my mount was naught but a tall stone cross. Monumental, moss-grown, and mysterious, it stood all alone like a guardian keeping eternal watch over the road. From its outstretched arms great drops were falling to the ground like heavy tears. . . .

Was the old cross weeping—weeping because a lovely funeral had passed that way? . . .