My Country by Marie Queen of Rumania

It is the season of harvest that shows Rumania in all her glory, that season when the labour of man meets its reward, when, the earth having given her utmost, man, woman, and child go forth to gather in the wealth that makes this country what it is.

Sometimes, indeed, it is an hour of disappointment, for rain, hail, or drought ofttimes undoes man's weary work. Sometimes the earth has not responded to his dearest hopes, has not been able to bring forth her fruit.

Years have I known when, for months at a time, no drop of rain has fallen, when, like the people of old, we watched the sky in the ardent hope that the cloud as large as a man's hand would spread and burst into the shower so sorely needed—but the cloud passed and gave not the rain it promised ; years when all that had been confided to the bosom of the earth withered and dried away because from April to September no drop had fallen, so that numbers of wretched cattle died for want of pasturage upon which to graze.

Terrible months of straining anxiety, of hopeless waiting that seemed to dry up the blood in one's veins, as the earth was parched from the want of rain.

The rivers had no more water; the land of plenty becomes a land of sighs, the dust covering all things as with a shroud of failure. . . .

But grand indeed are the years of plenty, when man's effort bears fruit.

In oceans of ripe gold the corn lies beneath the immense face of the sun, proud of its plenty, a glorious hope fulfilled!

And, from that vast plain of fertility, man's hand it is that reaps the ripe ears, that binds the sheaves, that gathers in the grain. Ever again and again must I marvel at the patience of man's labour, marvel at his extraordinary conquest over the earth.

In groups the peasants work from early dawn to sunset, unaffected by the pulsing heat beating down upon their heads. The men's snowy shirts contrast with the women's coloured aprons that stain the tawny plain with vivid spots of blue, red, or orange, for at the season of harvest no one remains idle—the very old and the disabled alone are left behind to guard the house.

From hour to hour ceaselessly they toil, till midday gathers them round their carts for frugal repast of polenta and onions. Pictures of labour, of healthy effort, of simple content! How often have I contemplated them with emotion, realising how dear this country had grown to my heart.

Watchful dogs guard the carts and those of the children too small to work; beneath the shade of these vehicles the labourers take a short hour's rest, alongside of their grey bullocks that in placid content lie chewing the cud, their enormous horns sending back the rays of the sun. Lazily they swish their tails from side to side, keeping off the too busy flies that gather on their lean flanks and round their large, dreamy eyes. With slow turns of their heads they follow their masters' movements, well aware that their own effort must be taken up again at the hour of sunset when the labourers go home.

Only on rich estates is machinery used, and then mostly for threshing the corn; nearly all the cutting is done by hand. Small gatherings of busy labourers crowd around the iron monster, whose humming voice can be heard from afar, and always rises the heap of grain till it stands, a burnished pyramid of gold, beneath the great blue sky.

At sunset the peasants return home, their scythes over their shoulders, walking beside their carts heaped up with bright yellow straw. Along the road they crawl, those carts, in a haze of dust. On wind-still evenings the dust remains suspended in the air, covering the world with a silvery gauze, enveloping the dying day in a haze of mystery that floats over man and beast, wiping out the horizon, toning down all colours, softening every outline.

Often the sinking sun sets this haze aflame ; then the atmosphere becomes strangely luminous, as though a tremendous fire were burning somewhere behind fumes of smoke. Indescribable is that hour ; full of beauty, full of peace, full of the infinite satisfaction of work faithfully accomplished, the hour when all feet are turned homewards, turned towards rest.

In never-ending file the carts follow each other, drawn by those grey-white oxen with the wondrous horns—along the road they come as though moving in a dream, that slowly passes in a cloud of dust and is gone; . . . but the dust remains suspended like a veil drawn over a vision that is no more. . . .

The maize-harvest comes later in the year, much later; sometimes in October the peasants are still gathering the ripe fruit. The days are short, and in the evening dampness rises out of the vast plain, and hovers like smoke beneath the glowing sky. An indescribable melancholy floats over the world, the melancholy of things come to an end. A great effort seems completed, and now the year has no more to do but to fall slowly to sleep. . . . Yet nothing is more glorious than the Rumanian autumn; Nature desires to deck herself in a last mantle of beauty before confessing herself vanquished by the advancing of the winter season.

The sky becomes intensely blue; all that stands up against it appears to acquire a new value. The trees dress themselves in wondrous colours, sometimes golden, sometimes russet, sometimes flaming red. Amongst the man-high maize-plants, giant sunflowers stand bending their heads, heavy with the weight of the seeded centres; like prodigious stars their saffron petals shine against the azure vault.

Whole fields have I seen of these giant plants, real armies of sun-shaped flowers, triumphantly yellow beneath the rays of the great light they so bravely mimic. But often it seems to me that ashamedly they turn their faces away, sadly aware that they are but a sorry imitation of the one whose name they bear. Oil is made out of the seeds of these flowers; therefore do the peasants cultivate them in such numbers.

Often beneath the shade of those giant plants have I seen peasants seated in circles round piles of maize, separating the fruit from the leaves. In dwarf pyramids of orange, the ripe cobs lie scattered about the wilting fields, their glorious colour attracting the eye from afar; often the women's kerchiefs are of the very same tint.

I love these flaming touches of colour amongst the arid immensities of reaped fields—lovingly the eye of the artist lingers to look at them, only unwillingly turning away.

A pretty sight is also that of the peasant meetings, either in large barns or court-yards, to unsheathe the grain of maize from its cob. These are occasions of great rejoicing, when the young folk flock together, when laughter and work mingle joyously, when long yarns are told and love-songs are sung. The old crones sit around spinning or weaving, their heads nodding together over delectable gossip, one eye upon the youths and maidens, who, dressed in their brightest, with a flaring flower stuck behind the ear, ogle each other, and joke and kiss and are happy.

The old gipsy "Lautar," or wander-minstrel, is never absent from these meetings. From somewhere he is sure to come limping along, shabby, disreputable, a sordid figure with his violin or his "cobsa" under his arm; but his music is wonderful, making all hearts laugh, or dance, or weep.