Chapter Ten

 •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 5
BOAST not thyself of tomorrow for thou knowest not what the day may bring forth," says the Word of God, and that truly. Even at the sheepfolds they did not dream what the next day would bring to them, the serious illness of Ondrejko's mother. The doctor, very much worried, said that the unexpected message about the arrival of her beloved father, whom she had not seen for years, shocked her so much, that she fell into a nervous illness, which he had wanted to prevent by bringing her here to the mountains. Only Palko and Bacha Filina knew that there was something more which overcame her. They spoke about it only between themselves and prayed for the lady very much. She seemed to recognize no one. She lay in her bed like a beautiful flower broken from its stem. In vain did Ondrejko whisper to her, and stroke and kiss her. She looked at him but did not answer. Only one thing consoled her poor child, that she had an expression, whether she slept or not, as though she were very happy. At times she sang beautiful songs to the honor of the Lamb; other times again, a sea ballad, and after that always the song, "My faith looks up to Thee." Thus two weeks passed by without any change.
In the meantime Lesina came; he finished what was necessary and went away, but did not take Palko with him. He could not do that to Ondrejko, who nestled to his comrade like a little bird driven out of its nest. The doctor said Ondrejko would surely be sick if his comrade left him just at this time. Bacha promised Lesina that he himself would take Palko home when the lady got better, because he believed that the lady would get well, although the doctor gave no hope that she would not die or that she would not lose her mind. For this reason also, Lesina could not take Palko away, for it seemed that the sick lady knew him. When he read in his Book she looked at him as if she listened, and though she did not say anything, she was always so quiet and happy.
In the meantime the answer came from Paris, and the unfortunate lady did not know that the boy who sat beside her bed so pale, now belonged only to her, and that no one else had any right to him. Neither did she know about another message—yes, even two; one coming from Hamburg in which her father announced that he had arrived safely; the other announcing his coming on Saturday evening to the nearest railway station. The Bacha very sadly stood at the foot of the lady's bed with both messages in his hands, and Aunty Moravec cried bitterly.
"What shall we do, Bacha Filina? He is coming from such a distance and knows nothing. How will;he take it, when he finds her thus, and will heap that because of his telegram this sickness oVircame her? Previously, in Russia, the doctors had told her that some day her nerves might give way. Oh, what will the poor father say? He wanted to give her joy, and it has turned out like this."
"What God does and permits, is always good," Filina said, nodding his head. "Do not worry; I am going for her father, and on the way will prepare him for what he will find here."
"Bacha Filina, take me along to meet Grandfather," begged Ondrejko, when Bacha was getting ready in the afternoon.
"I am going on foot; that would be too far for you, my boy," said Bacha, stroking the boy's head. "You just remain with your mother and wait for your grandfather here. At the station I. shall take a carriage; I think that in the evening, about eight o'clock, we shall be here."
Bacha kissed the boy, though he usually did not do so, and in a moment his giant-like figure disappeared in the thicket by the clearing. He picked the shortest way over paths well-known to him, but still it took about two hours before he reached the main road leading to J—. There he suddenly stopped. He turned to the east, where on a steep rock stood an old, recently repaired cross. Oh, human memory, how strange thou art! Bacha needed only to look at the cross, and at once, as if the years flew back, it seemed to him as if he was standing there like a nineteenyear-old youth. A desire overtook him to go up to the cross, bend over its side and look again on the path on which, on that summer morning, his brother, Stephen, had left, never to return again.
He went on that "breaking" ship to a "cold grave." Bacha Filina could not resist that desire. For about a quarter of an hour he kneeled at the cross, and rested his forehead on the stone step. Inexpressible sorrow shook him. It wanted to rob him of his assurance of forgiveness, but in and around him it was suddenly as if somebody sang:
"My faith looks up to Thee,
Thou Lamb of Calvary,
Saviour Divine!
Now hear me while I pray,
Take all my guilt away;
Oh, let me from this day,
Be wholly Thine!"
His heavy load of sin had been cleansed by that precious blood! The Lord Jesus took his guilt with Him on the cross and the Holy God had forgiven him! But what was he doing here now? What had he come here for? What did he waste the time here for? Yonder in the cottage, Ondrejko's mother was half-alive and half-dead, and from afar her father from beyond the ocean was coming to his child. If he, Filina, would delay here, they might miss each other at the station.
Bacha stood up, dusted off his Sunday clothes, put his firm arm around the cross and bent over, as once many years ago! It was good that the cross was firm and also the arm that clung to it. Bacha saw on the sloping path a man of slim figure, in a gentleman's suit, drawing near. Just then he stopped. He turned round; he took his hat from his head and looked in the direction where once stood Filina's hut. All that marked the place were a few half-burned timbers, now overgrown with weeds. Oh, that face! There was only one like it, never forgotten, younger—but nevertheless!
Bacha closed his eagle eyes that they might not fool him. He opened them only when the steps drew nearer to him from below. He let go the cross and crossed his arms on his chest. Looking up he stood face to face with the stranger.
"Good evening," said he.
"Oh, Stephen!" It came out of the chest of Bacha. Half cry, half terror.
"Peter! Is it you!" Two arms twined around Filina's neck.
"Stephen! You live? Really? It is not possible!"
"I live, Peter, and at last, I am coming. It is rather late, it's true, but I did not know before that the loved one who once separated us, had passed away long ago, and that you and I would not have any more heartaches. I am coming to you for my treasures, which are in your care."
"Your treasures?" Bacha was surprised still, not knowing whether it was a beautiful, but impossible dream. He could not get enough of the voice that was speaking to him. The face was older, changed, but the voice was the same. It always sounded to Peter Filina like music. And so it was today.
"We are expecting the father of Madame Slavkovsky today, and I am going to meet him."
"I am that father."
"You, Stephen?" Bacha released the stranger. "I do not understand that."
"I believe you, my Peter. Well, how you have changed, how strong you have gotten, how giantlike, like the beautiful mountains all around! I would not have recognized you, if it were not for the voice—no one has called me thus since—and by your eagle eyes under those heavy eyebrows."
"Stephen, tell me, how is it possible that you live? Was not that ship wrecked?"
"Yes, Peter, she went to the bottom of the sea; but I was among the few immigrants which another ship saved. God does not want the death of a sinner, but rather that he be converted and live; so He saved me. The first steady work that I had in America was on the farm of Mr. Slavkovsky. My daughter wrote me that she told you everything about us. Thus you know what Slavkovsky asked of me and that I agreed to do as he wished. When he heard from me that I did not want you to know that I still lived, he advised me to adopt his name and thus disappear forever from this world. His wife and son, and even my good wife, agreed with it. Thus Stephen Pribylinsky died and only Stephen Slavkovsky remained. I could not return home and live with you, as our father planned. Eva was your wife and I loved her. I did not really know God and the Lord Jesus then, nor understood His Holy Law; but this much I knew, that it would have been a constant and a great temptation for us all. Thus, I chose to die to you."
Slavkovsky finished, and out of Bacha's breast came a deep sigh. "You died for us, and until recently I worried very much about it, that I had become a murderer and was like Cain."
"You? And why?"
"Did I not drown you the second time in that swamp, by driving you to America? Eva loved you more. Had it not been for me, you could have lived as happily as in Paradise. You would have been mated much better. At my side, ,t she perished of sorrow. My father did not live long; I took care of mother, but could not replace her son to her. See yonder the burnt remains of our hut, where we once lived so happily. Years ago, when I took up this service which I have held ever since, I rented it to a neighbor. He did not take good care and it burned down. I could, but would not rebuild it. What would it have been good for to me? I was forsaken in the world, like a stick."
Sudden quietness prevailed on the step at the foot of the cross, where both men sat. It seemed that the popular song could be applied to them :
"Mountain, green mountain, Ahoy!
My heart is hurting, sadly I cry!
Painful, so painful is my woe,
My heart is fainting, my joy is gone."
"Forgive me, Peter," suddenly said Stephen Slavkovsky. "It was not right that I hid myself from you. I have caused you much sorrow. While I imagined that you were living with Eva in our mountains, which I never could forget, perhaps surrounded with children, and our parents were happy with you—you have lived alone for years. It was not good that I did not let you know about myself. Once some one from this neighborhood came to America but did not know me and told me that father died. I had already written a letter to mother, to send her my love, but I did not send it. I thought how good I was to you, but that heart of ours is deceitful and perverse, full of self-righteousness and pride. I have done wrong both to mother and to you, but I was repaid when my only child forsook me, and after ten years I must come as far as here to find her."
Bacha roused himself, "Come, Stephen, let us delay no longer; but if we go on foot we shall arrive very late."
They both arose. "I am on foot. I have a coach; however, I told the driver to feed the horses a bit. Now I hear them; they will be ready. Let us go; on the way we can tell one another more."
Thus among the Slovak mountains rode two brothers, who had grown up among them, and were so closely united to them, that one of them in a distant land almost died of home-sickness, and the other could not have lived without them at all. Now they did not think about the beauty around them, because Stephen Slavkovsky found out his child was waiting for him, and that only the Heavenly Doctor could save His sheep which had returned to Him.
The proverb says that bad luck does not wander among the mountains but among the people. Now it was among the mountains. Who can describe the moment when the father stopped at the bed of his only child and saw her so broken and read on her beautiful face the confirmation of all of which he had once warned her. The setting sun shone upon the broken flower and on the man who was kneeling at her bed, his head laid on his crossed arms. No one dared to disturb him in his sadness and prayer. Suddenly the lady opened her eyes; she turned them to the window and began to sing softly the song which she had recently taught the boys:
"Jesus, Lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly,'
While the billows o'er me roll,
While the tempest still is high;
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide,
Till the storm of life be past;
Safe into the haven guide;
Oh, receive my soul at last."
Her father cried silently and the others with him. But she sang on, and as Joe said sometime ago, "She could do anything with them when she sang." The weeping stopped, and the small room seemed to be full of the presence of Him who is the King of Glory, the Prince of Peace, and the only Healer.
"Other refuge have I none,
Hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, oh, leave me not alone,
Still support and comfort me:
All my trust on Thee is stayed,
All my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenceless head
With the shadow of Thy wing."
Palko believed and felt that his Lord was there, and the lady sang on :
"Thou, O Christ, art all I want;
More than all in Thee I find;
Raise the fallen, cheer the faint,
Heal the sick and lead the blind:
Just and holy is Thy name,
I am all unrighteousness;
Vile and full of sin I am,
Thou art full of truth and grace.
"Plenteous grace with Thee is found—
Grace to cover all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound,
Make and keep me pure within;
Thou of life the fountain art,
Freely let me take of Thee;
Spring Thou up within my heart,
Rise to all eternity."
The song concluded. A silence followed during which the lady turned her look away from the window and fastened it upon the face of the man who bent over her.
"Mary, dear, my golden darling, do you not recognize me?" asked the trembling lips of the man, so tenderly, as only a good father can speak to his only child. For a moment the beautiful eyes of the lady fastened themselves on the man's eyes. The doctor entering the room at that moment, with a quick movement of his hand tried to hinder this critical situation, but it was too late. The lady's pale face glowed suddenly, as after the dark night the day breaks over the mountains.
"My father! Oh, my father!"
She sat up, stretched out her arms and would have sunk back, had not her father's arms clasped her; her head was resting on his breast, her arms twined around his neck, and the lady clung closely to him like a little chick pursued by the hawk, when the hen spreads over it her protecting wings.
"Did you come? Did you forgive? Do you love? Oh, at home, home! No more in a strange land. I am not fleeing any more—the Lord Jesus was merciful, He received me. . . . Now I can die!" Thus whispered the lady, crying softly, returning her father's kisses.
"Indeed not! Who would die now?" the doctor interrupted at this tender moment. "You haven't even shown Ondrejko to your father, and the poor boy can hardly wait any longer." It was as if a new life had been poured into her.
"My Ondrejko!" She stretched out her hand to the boy, still crouching beside her. "Just look!
Grandfather has come, and you don't have to beg him any more. Just welcome him!"
Ondrejko found himself in the arms of his grandfather and was very surprised. He had expected to see an old man with a gray beard, but grandfather was without beard and still quite young and handsome. The boy felt, what he had never known before, what a joy it is to be kissed and hugged by a father. His saddened heart rejoiced, and he was filled with a feeling of protection and safety.