Chapter Two

 •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 5
IT was on a Sunday afternoon. The quiet of the holiday was noticeable even on the mountains where, hand in hand, the little comrades walked. They were nicely washed and arrayed in Sunday clothing, because Bacha Filina would not suffer anybody to desecrate Sunday. Everyone who could, had to go to the next town to church, though it was almost two hours' walk. He himself seldom went; he was not able to take long walks. Once a timber fell on his foot in the woods and from that time on he had pains in it, but since he did not go down to church, he read in his large old Bible. Today he had gone to church and the boys went to meet him. They missed him very much. He ordered them to memorize the reading of the Gospel for the day and each had to recite separately.
Suddenly Petrik became silent; he drew his comrade aside and pointed with a silent nod of the head toward a cut-down tree lying in the woods. There sat Bacha Filina with his head resting in the palms of his hands as if something were pressing him down to the black ground.
"Let us go up to the Bacha," advised Petrik; "he seems to be sad."
"Truly very sad," worried Ondrejko. "Perhaps the sadness will pass from him when we come to him."
The crackling of dry branches under the bare feet of the boys roused Bacha. He looked around.
The children stood a short distance off. Should they go to him—or not?
"Where are you going?" he called to them. They came running. "Only to meet you, Bacha."
"Well, why did you come to meet me?" His usually rough voice seemed to sound different. "We were lonesome without you," haltingly admitted Ondrejko, and presently they sat on the moss carpet at the feet of Bacha.
"And why, Bacha, were you sitting here so sadly?" Petrik looked surprisedly at Ondrejko, that he dared to ask. Would not Bacha be angry?
"Did you think that I was sad?" Bacha stroked the golden hair surrounding the pale face of the child, which in the sunshine looked like a halo on a saint.
"And were you not?" The blue eyes of the boy, like two lovely blue flowers, gazed into the black eagle-like eyes of the man.
"Well, child, I was sad, and you have done well that you came to meet me. While I rest a while, recite to me the Gospel that you have learned."
Both boys, one after the other, recited the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.
"May I ask you, Bacha, to tell me why the rich man did not help Lazarus?" Petrik dared to ask.
"Why? Because his heart was like a stone. The dogs were better than he. Remember that, children, and never do any harm to birds or animals . Now let us go."
Bacha took Ondrejko by the hand and giving his book to Petrik they walked through the woods toward home. High above them in the clearing sounded the bells of the flock, and off and on the impatient barking of Whitie and Playwell, and in between sounded the trumpet of the youngest herdsman, Stephen. He played with such an ardor that it seemed the notes were running over;
"Come, come, ye gentle sheep,
Keep out of waters deep;
Pasture on meadows green
Where grass grows sweet and clean."
How the trumpet resounded as if some one were weeping in the woods! Even the echo seemed to answer in the same way.
The boys liked the beautiful tune. They knew the words of this song, but Bacha bowed down his proud head as though some great burden were pressing him down.
After they had finished their simple supper, they sat again as usual in front of the hut, Bacha on a stump and the boys at his feet. They were looking one at the other, wondering if they dare ask for some story. He knew so many of them, and when he was in good humor he knew very well how to tell good stories.
"I beg, Bacha, will you not tell us something?" Ondrejko finally asked, and looked at the same time in such a way at Bacha that he would have to be a very hard man to refuse.
Disturbed from his meditation, Bacha, looked for a while into the beautiful inquiring eyes, then with a deep breath he began :
"Many years ago I was a boy like you two. I'm telling you this that you may know what you should never become, if the Lord God is not to be very angry at you. I will tell you today something about myself which I have not yet told anybody on earth," began Filina. He stopped a moment and the boys waited eagerly for him to go on.
"When I was five years old my mother died. My father brought another mother in the house. She was a young, beautiful woman, a widow. With her came a son from her first marriage. We called him Stephen, and when I look at you, Ondrejko, I always have him before me as he entered our but for the first time. On his head he had a hat with a long band, a cloak thrown over his shoulder, an embroidered shirt, and narrow trousers. He was like a picture of a saint—so beautiful and so lovely.
"I was my father's youngest child. The older ones died, so I never had a brother, and suddenly he came—and was to be my brother. You love each other—I know. That also reminds me of my childhood. I began to love him more than I could my own brother. We were of equal age, but I was strong and he weak; I was wild and he tame; I was ugly and he beautiful. In spite of this we loved each other, and our parents were well satisfied. They could leave him under my care—because they knew I was able to defend him—and could leave me under his care, because when he was with me I was much more tame.
"Would that it had remained so always. But a proverb says, not in vain, that 'Where the Devil cannot go himself he will send an old woman.' And he sent her to us. It was your father's Aunt, your great-aunt, Petrik. She came once to us and asked me aside if the new mother liked me, and was sorry for me that I was a poor orphan. Said she, 'Who has a step-mother has also a stepfather. Your father doesn't love you as much as he does Stephen.' She didn't stay long with us. Just as she came, so she went, but she took with her my love for Stephen. Because I was so wild and always did something wrong, my wise father had to punish me often; but Stephen was never punished because he always did what was pleasing in the sight of father and mother. From that time on I always remembered the words of the great-aunt that I was punished and he not because they loved him, and his mother interceded for him, and there was no one to stand by me. But my step-mother quite often interceded for me. She was a kind woman and never did me any harm, but I wanted her to show more love to me than to her own boy. But that could not be. This wrong thought grew in my heart, and my envy increased from year to year till we were about as old as you two boys; and now comes the sad part which I never shall forget, and that is what is pressing me to the earth unto today."
Bacha pointed over to the mountain opposite them.
"Do you see yonder mountain?" The boys nodded.
"There we used to live at the foot of the mountain. Look toward the West, where the sun is lying down to sleep; there in the valley lived the weavers, to whom from all our homes, the wool was carried to be woven. Two paths led to those huts; the one up and down over the rocks—the other through the valley, easier but more dangerous, because there was a stretch of swamp into which, if somebody fell, he could never get out by himself. One who knew how, could get over by jumping from rock to rock and to clumps of grass, but it seemed as if some black power wanted to pull one down.
"Once our parents had us carry our wool. Going, we went the upper way, as we were told, but after we delivered the wool to the weavers, Stephen handed me an apple, which the weaver's wife had given him, saying he had another in his bag from his mother. Mother gave me nothing for the journey because I didn't take leave of her, and she didn't even see me when I grabbed my bag. And now, even the weaver's wife had not given me anything. It made me sad. I got angry, threw the apple away, and would rather have cried. Here was evidence, I thought, that what the great-aunt said was true. Nobody cared for me, at home, nor anywhere else. Everybody liked Stephen, and it always would be so.
"I used to hear some people say that the Devil is walking on the earth, though we do not see him, and whispers to us what we should think and do. If it is true, I don't know, but that he was with me that time and gave me bad, gruesome advice, is sure. Only he could have told me that. When we left the weavers, I said to Stephen, ‘Going over the mountain is too far. Let us go by the lower and more convenient path; it is nearer.'
" 'But mother said we must go only over the hill,' objected Stephen, 'and father called also from the yard, 'Do not go by the lower way.' "
"Well, however it was, when we came where the paths divided we went on the lower path anyway. I claimed that my feet hurt, I had stubbed my big toe, and had a thorn in my heel. Stephen was sorry for me, and thought that when we explained it to mother she would see the reason, and father also, why we took the lower path after all.
"Truly it was fine to run there, like on carpets, till we came to the swamp. 'You must now jump from rock to rock,' said I, and I ran ahead. We came near the opposite side. There was only one more jump. Because I was larger, and my feet longer I managed to jump over, but I knew that Stephen could not jump over. There were bunches of grass and I advised him to run over them. He listened to me, came over two or three, but the third one began to move under him and he jumped back on the rock.
" 'Stay there,' I called to him. 'Not far from here lives the forester; I will run for him and he will help you.' I ran as fast as I could but not to the forester's house.
" Petrik, do not leave me. I am afraid,' called Stephen after me, and right after that followed a cry :
" 'Mother mine!'
"Thus I have heard him day and night, as in the past years, so even till today, and I shall perhaps in the hour of death and in the whole of eternity. I was still a small boy, but a bad one, and at that moment hard as a rock. 'Surely he will fall in and will drown,' I consoled myself. ‘Nobody will give him any more apples, and people will love me and me only.' No old criminal could have felt worse than I felt then. I began to run still faster till my legs broke down under me and my breath failed. Yes; I ran through the woods alone, forsaken, as once Cain did when he killed his brother and ran away from the face of God. Suddenly a great pain gripped me that could not be expressed, because the voice that whispered to me before, 'Drown him in that swamp,' now whispered to me, 'You dare not go home. What will you say when they ask you about Stephen?' Tired and hungry as I was I threw myself on the ground and started to cry bitterly till I fell asleep.
"At day-break the drivers passed by with their wagons for lumber. They found me and, recognizing me, laid me sleeping on a wagon and took me as far as our hut. There they awakened me, laid me down, and half-sleeping I didn't realize at once what had happened the day before. I ran to the hall and opened the door.
"The rays of the rising sun struck our bedroom first—the same that day. It lit up the bed of my father, and . . ." Bacha stopped and tears ran down his cheek.
"And what, Bacha? Oh, what, Bacha?" with bitter cries both boys exclaimed. The tears were already running down Ondrejko's pale face.
"There on the bed in the rays of the sun like a holy picture, rested our Stephen, sleeping. Mother sat beside the bed. There was a humming in my ears and blackness before my eyes, and if father had not jumped and caught me I would have fallen over. It was long before they brought me back to consciousness."
"So he didn't drown?" both boys were astonished and rejoicing.
"Didn't he fall into that swamp?"
"He fell in it, children. Oh, he fell in, and there was no man who could have saved him. But we had a large dog called Whitie who went around always with us, as Fido with you. When we left home we left him behind, but he followed us, and the Lord God Himself sent him in that moment when the stone under Stephen gave way, and he lost his balance and fell. Whitie caught him by the hair and dragged him to the shore, and whined and barked till the forester came.
"He carried Stephen to the brook, washed off the mud, and revived him, for he was almost dead, and then carried him home. I expected father would punish me but he did not. Mother kissed me crying, and gave me breakfast. They were afraid something had happened to me. They thought I had been drowned because I couldn't be found anywhere. I saw clearly that they both loved me very much, but it did not please me, I was afraid it would become known what I had intended to do. My parents are already in eternity, and I can not now ask them for forgiveness because after death there is no more forgiveness.
"Stephen never let it be known that I made him go that way, and from that time on we loved each other as from the beginning. I was no longer jealous of the love of father and mother to him. I knew and felt now that they loved me also, and that I didn't deserve this love.
"From that time I couldn't look at the dog Whitie. It was always painful to me that he, a dog, saved Stephen, when I wanted to drown him. But though he didn't drown that time the Holy God took him to Himself. He must be angry at me, a sinner, to this day. Thus I say, 'Never do any harm to animals; they are much better than people; they are God's creatures; they never do wrong things before God but obey always.' And now, boys, run and go to sleep."
Though the boys had many questions on their hearts they obediently bade him "good night" and went. For a long time, lying on the hay, they spoke together about Stephen, how he jumped over the bunches of grass, how the rock turned under him, how he fell, and how Whitie saved him.
"I am very sorry for Bacha Filina," said Ondrejko. "I can never forget it. It must pain him—could it be that God is still angry with him?"
"But where is this Stephen?" worried Petrik. "They were the same age, so he must be just as old now. Perhaps he will tell us some other time about him." They were stopped from further talking by Fido. Somehow he had managed to get to them and they were rejoiced. They told him once more about the hero Whitie and enjoined upon him to follow him. He wagged his tail, licked their hands and faces, whining for joy as if he were promising it all, and when the boys slept, he slept with one eye open because he had to stand guard over his comrades.