Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"The Third Nest"

The Third Nest: An Easter Story
      It was a late Easter and an early spring. The combination had brought the festival of the resurrection into the heart of the bloom and blossom of the season, instead of the bluster and the blow. The shadows were already heavy beneath the trees, though the tints of the leaves were still delicate. Long blooms hung from the horse chestnuts.
Kirche St. Martin in Zillis,
Kanton Graub√ľnden.
      Out at the water works grounds, beds of flaming tulips broke the level green' Persian lilacs flung out the sweetness of their pinkish sprays, and the snow ball bushes were masses of cream-white. From neighboring grounds came the heavy odor of myriads of apple and peach blossoms, the apple trees almost purple with the density of their branches and blooms, the peach trees slender spears of pink. And, as a background, the glitter of Lake St. Clair, through the branches, until far off it melted into the sky.
      A boy with a dark, foreign face, delicate and refined in spite of his evident neglect and the associations of the street which the violin under his arm suggested--picturesque in the contrast-sat on a seat near a tulip bed. He was looking dreamily at the flowers. He loved them, and it was their attraction that held him there when he ought to have been playing his violin and earning something.
      The flowers made him think of the old cemetery behind St. Martin's church in Zuchvill, in Switzerland. There were so many flowers there that the tourists came from afar to visit it. All the headstones in that cemetery were alike-that was the village law-except one, a plain granite shaft, beneath which was buried the heart of Kosciusko. How often his father had taken him there and told him the story of Kosciusko. He looked at the glimmering strip of lake which he could see and tried to imagine that it was the Aare river, the beautiful Aare which flows through the valley north of Zuchvill.
      But the illusion was not good. Down on the bank of the Aare the violets grew thickly, and he knew there were none on the lake shore, for he had just looked to see; beyond the gleaming river there was the Weissenstein jutting out from the Jura mountains, stretching along the north, blue almost as the sky itself. There was no stretch of pine forest to the left either, and behind him no village nor beechwood-the beechwood where he and Marie used to gather beechnuts. Around him it was beautiful, but it was not the Zuchvill meadow. Oh, that meadow--there was something about the day that him feel like crying, and he had a queer, dizzy sense in his head. It could not be that he was hungry. A boy who has a good breakfast ought to have enough until supper time. He put his hand in his pocket and took out some change, only $1.22. His lodging, together with breakfast and supper, was $1.50. and today was Saturday. It must be that it was only thirst, so he went and got another drink. Then he resolutely drew his bow across the strings. Perhaps the policeman would let him play here a little while. There were a few visitors, he might make a few cents without leaving the dear flowers. Under the spell of the violin the illusions he had sought became clearer, the surroundings became more and more like Zuchvill.
      He remembered one never-to-be-forgotten time, when his father took him out for a little walk, his father, who lived in his memory as a great, big man, with a very black beard, and a voice like no other, so kind and so caressing.
      As they walked along, his father told him stories of Poland, beautiful, suffering Poland, from which he was exiled. Some day it should be free-then he would take his little son up in his arms and kiss him, telling him to try to be a great and good man some day, so he could help to free it. And they two had walked along the Zuchvill meadow together--it was in the spring of the year, when the little flowers bloomed everywhere and he had let go his father's hand to gather flowers. When he came back his father was lying on the ground, he thought asleep, so he lay beside him and slept, too. But there was a difference in their sleep.
      He had not forgotten a detail, for over and over his baby lips had to tell to his mother the last words of his father, and she in turn had told him the reason of the tragedy.
      They were trying new guns at Solothurn, the city of which Zuchvill was really a suburb. His father, who had been away for a few weeks, had not heard of the proposed experiment, and did not notice the signs marking danger line. Daily his mother reproached herself for not warning him, and daily, also, she told her boy of his father until the memory of him became an ideal than which there could be none better.
      After his father's death his mother and he had gone to live at the inn, "Die Schnepfe." She was his teacher in all things and his companion. She loved the violin and she taught him to love it. The little Marie, the child of the innkeeper, was his playmate and fellow student. His mother left, just enough, by saving, to send him to school so that he might become a great man, as his father had wished.
      They lived there a long, long time, and it all was a long time ago. So it seemed to him, yet he was but twelve; and they might have lived on there forever, he and his good mamma, if it had not been for her brother. Here the boy gave his bow a vicious jerk. His mamma had been rich, but her brother had done something with her money, and even after that he would send her letters that made her cry. Here brother was in America, and one day she said they must go to him. When they came to New York her brother was in the hospital, his mother said, and cried. After a while he died. He knew now that it had been the prison hospital. When he wanted to go back his mother said she had no money. Then she had tried to get work to do, and they had lived in a little room in a big building, on a dirty street, nothing like the beautiful Zuchvill, yet it was good enough, so long as his mother lived.
       But she became ill and he sold papers and between times played his violin on the streets. His mother had said that it was begging, but when your mother is ill, what will you do? So he went on playing and did not tell her.
      When she was dying she had told him to remember his father's example and to be true to his faith and his country. She told him it would be better to leave the great wicked city, now that he was alone, and go to Detroit. She had heard that there were many Poles there. Besides, she wanted her boy to grown up where he could sometimes see trees and grass and sky.
      So he played his way to Detroit. It was only six weeks since his mother's death, but it seemed very long since then.
      He played on, Polish airs and Swiss melodies. He knew little American music. The Americans have no songs, he thought they do not need them. Only those who have no country and no father and no mother, who are hungry and homeless, can sing; or, if they have beautiful hills and mountains, as in Switzerland, to echo back the yodels, they might sing for joy.
      Out of the corner of his eyes he saw a little shadow edging steadily nearer. The shadow had curls, a broad hat and skirts, and then another smaller shadow in knickerbockers crept near it. The boy turned his head a little. It might have been Marie of 'Die Schnepfe," at whom he was looking, for just so he remembered her as she was when he and his mother came to America. He had been playing life into his memories, and the fancy seized him to make believe that this little girl was his old playmate. He smiled a little to reassure her for his sudden turn, and she, on her part, came a little nearer and leaned comfortably against a tree opposite him.
      Then he began playing a little song which he and Marie used to sing. It was in the Swiss dialect and composed by a friend of his mother's. It belonged to Zuchvill, and to no other place as much as did the meadow and the beechwood and the view of the Weissenstein.
      The girl's little brother toddled in between them, his brow in a puzzled pucker as he looked at the violin from different points. But Brunislav looked at her eyes across the little fellow's head and played and sang with all his soul. At the end of the stanza he broke out into a joyous yodel, and the girl yodelt too, high and clear. He was making believe that she was Marie and he feared to break the spell if he asked her questions, so he sang the next stanza--this time she sang it all with him.
      There was a bond between them now, and he laid down his violin and asked in the Swiss dialect:
      "Where did you learn that?"
      "From father," she answered.
      "Does he come from Zuchvill?"
      The little girl nodded.
      "Were you ever there?"
      She shook her head. Her mother's injunction against speaking to strangers was severe, and she was shy. It puzzled her to decide whether this boy who sang her father's song was a stranger or not. She hesitated, with the usually fatal results. The lonely and homesick Brunislav kept on talking and she answered less timidly each time.
      "Did your father ever tell you about Kosciusco's heart?"
      She shook her head.
      Brunislav looked incredulous. She seemed far less like Marie than a few minutes ago.
      "Did he ever tell you about the Weissenstein?"
      She nodded. That was better, he thought.
      "Did he ever tell you about the convent down by Solothurn, where the children used to find the Easter eggs in the nests on Easter Sunday morning, and where they used to give us Easter cakes baked like little lambs?"
      She shook her head. "But," she said, "Franzi," pointing to her brother, "and I build nests and mother bakes the Easter lamb cakes for us. Does your mother bake any for you?"
      "I have no mother?"
      "Oh," said the girl, and thought awile.
      Bruinslav started the conversation again by asking, "And do you go out early Easter morning to whistle for the hare that lays the Easter eggs?"
      "No, we wake up too late; father whistles instead."
      Brunislav smiled a superior smile. He was twelve and she was eight, and he had a better idea who put the Easter eggs into the nests than she had.
      She went on: "Franzi and I came over here to see if we could find some nice, green moss for our nests."
      "I'll help you," said Brunislav.
      "Do you build nests, too?"
      "Why not?"
      Brunislav tried to think of an answer that would not reveal his lack of faith in the mythical hare.
      "I have no place," he said, at last.
      " I will let you make a nest in our yard," said the girl. "Maybe the hare will find it there, if you put your name in it."
      He did not know what to say, so he was silent.
      "Don't you want to?" she asked, aggrieved.
      "I will if you want me to," he answered, gallantly. By the time they had found the mosses and returned to their home Franzi was hungry, so the girl took him into the house for a lunch. A few minutes later she came back with him, a cookie in each of his hands. Brunislav was still telling himself that he was thirsty, but it was very hard to do so and watch Franzi eating. Women are quick, even in miniature. The little girl ran back into the house and returned with several cookies and divided with him.
      The extra number of cookies consumed made her scrupulous again as to what her mother would say if she knew, and she wanted to hurry her guest.
      "I'll build your nest," she said. From the depths of her pocket she produced a stubby pencil and a bit of druggist's blue wrapping paper. "Write your name on this, she said, as if conferring a special honor in the color, "and I'll put it in the nest for you. When you come tomorrow morning sing "Am Morga Frueh.' Father likes that," she added, with feminine finesse.
      "Is you name Marie?" he asked.
      "Yes," she said.
      Some latent instinct of chivalry made the boy take her little hand and kiss it. Then he went away.
*   *   *   *   *   *   *
      On Easter morning John Kulle, Marie's father, with a basket of bright-colored eggs on his arm, was looking for the nests constructed by Marie and Franzi.
      He found each with a label in Marie's very primitive handwriting. But close by there was a third. Strange, of what were the children thinking? He picked up the bit of blue paper, and the name on it gave him a creepy sensation.
      Brunislav Bernaski!"
      He had a European respect for the nobility, and Brunislav Bernascki, though that of a landless and exiled man, was a great name in Zuchvill fifteen years before. Moreover, he had heard of the accident and death.
      He went into the front yard and nervously investigated the lilac bushes, until such time when Marie should get up and he could watch developments.
      Presently there rang out, high and jubilant, "Am Morga Frueh," with its joyous yodel. Surely this was supernatural.
      Later, when Marie got up, she found her friend of yesterday talking earnestly to her father. He staid to breakfast and came back after mass, and staid to dinner and to supper, and the next day he went to work for her father, who owned a flourishing bakery, and stayed at their house for good, to Marie's delight.
      The teachings of his father and mother had been too stern to turn him only to music, and Brunislav is studying law. If he cannot free Poland, he can be the friend of his people in this country. Will he marry Marie? Probably. for The Saint Paul Daily Globe by Eugene Uhlrich, 1896

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