Chapter 10 of the Gray Wolf of Carpathia

Chapter 10

In the morning, the sun was shining through the dirty window, and even Maria seemed to have her spirits lifted. She smiled as Vasili hugged and kissed Nadya and once again promised to be home as soon as possible.

“I should be home by the end of October,” Vasili promised. “Please be brave Nadya. I know that you can make it on your own for a little while.”

Nadya nodded her head without saying anything. She held her arm out and handed Maria the large-brimmed hat she had saved so long to purchase. “Take this hat,” Nadya offered, “It will help hide your face from others.”

Maria, surprised at the change she could see in Nadya, wrapped her in the tightest hug her now-frail body could provide.

“Goodbye Nadya. I shall never forget your kindness,” said Maria.

“Goodbye Maria. I have only done God’s will.” returned Nadya. She turned to Vasili with tears shining in her green eyes. “I love you Vasili Mihalyos. I will wait for you, but I will miss you every moment.”

Vasili, choked up at the emotion in Nadya’s voice said, “Whatever I have to do to return to you, I will do it. I will do anything to look at you and kiss you again.” He took Nadya in his arms and kissed her for a very long time. Finally, he held her at arms length and said, “This is how I will remember you while I am on my journey.”

Vasili took both cases and Maria held is arm as they went through the apartment door, leaving Nadya with a look of longing.

It was a short walk to the train station, but it was almost too much for Maria. She leaned more and more on Vasili, but Vasili was determined that she would appear as well as she could. He knew that if anyone suspected her illness, they would never make it on the train or on the ship.

As Vasili purchased the train tickets, Maria leaned against the wall and pulled the hat down as far as she could. She was shaking as Vasili turned with the tickets in his hand.

“Are you alright?” asked a passerby with obvious concern.

Neither Maria nor Vasili could speak the strangers language, but they understood his gesture. Vasili nodded to the man and rushed off with Maria toward the train platform. The man turned and walked away without another word.

Vasili led Maria to a bench on the platform. “We have only five minutes until the train arrives,” Vasili said, trying to reassure Maria that she could make it through this. “Then we can relax in our seats until we get to New York.”

A slight smile appeared on Maria’s face and she said, “Hopefully we can relax more than we did on our trip out of Hungary.”

“That is my little sister!” exclaimed Vasili, “You are still in there I see.” He peered under the brim of the hat and then took Maria’s hand in his.

When the train arrived, Vasili threw his bags into the car, then as subtly as he could, he carried Maria up the steep rail car steps. He found their seats and place her against the window, as far from the eyes of strangers as he could. He only hoped that the Laudanum would control the coughing while they were on the train ride, and that it would last through the voyage. For now, Maria quickly fell asleep and slept until they arrived in New York.

As the train pulled into the station, Vasili gently shook Maria’s arm and whispered, “We are here.”

Maria, apparently in the midst of a dream, shouted “Father!”

Everyone in the train turned and looked at the frail girl in the car, but Vasili smiled and shrugged his shoulders, a gesture he had learned from his Rusyn friends in the mill. It seemed to work because the other passengers then went about their business getting ready to leave the train.

Vasili helped Maria down the steps and held her closely as they found a trolley station. Vasili recognized the name of the stop they needed at the piers and they managed to board the trolley without a problem. As they exited, the conductor said something that Vasili could not understand, but from the look on the conductor’s face, he feared they would be stopped. The conductor, realizing they were immigrants, just spat on the ground and went back into the trolley.

Vasili bought two tickets to Bremen on the SS Kronprinzessin Cecille. They were both exhausted, and slept for eight hours, sitting on the pier’s benches, with Maria resting her head on her brother’s shoulder.

 When it came time to board, Vasili helped Maria up the walkway and onto the deck. He handed both of their tickets to the sailor at the top. The officer held out an arm and looked at Maria for what seemed like minutes. Finally, seemingly satisfied or at least tired of the grumbling of the passengers behind Vasili, he put down his arm and and allowed them to board.

They found a bed in steerage, put their suitcases under, and laid down to rest. The ship got underway after an hour or so, and Vasili and Maria finally got to sleep in something besides a bench. 

They were awakened by the ship violently tossing from side to side. They could barely keep themselves from falling out of the bed. Passengers everywhere were getting sick; the smell of vomit permeated the deck. Maria began to heave but Vasili was able to calm her down with more Laudanum. He was afraid that anything that upset her were start her coughing, and they would be found out.

Even in the bowels of the ship they could hear the wind howling and the waves striking at the hull, as if at any moment it could come crashing into them. The thunder resounded through the metal hull.

As the ship continued to sway from side to side, a large man appeared beside their bed. He pointed to the bottle of Laudanum, then to his mouth. Vasili grasped the bottle tightly and shook his head. The man yelled something at Vasili and grabbed for the bottle. Vasili deftly pulled it away, at which the man became enraged. He slammed his fist into the side of Vasili’s head. Maria huddled into a corner of the bed as Vasili began to rise to his feet; but the man pounded him once again. But Vasili was quick—he took the punch and rammed his head into the man’s stomach, causing him to reel backwards into another bed. He came at Vasili one more time, but as Vasili tried to avoid the next punch, the ship lurched to the side and Vasili lost his grip on the bottle. It crashed to the deck, splintered glass spreading like an explosion, and the precious Laudanum mixing with the shards and under the bed.

Vasili now lost his temper and yelled, “You bastard!” His fist flew at the man’s nose and connected with a violent collision, causing his nose to crack. Maria screamed, which caused her to begin coughing. As she coughed, she could feel the blood splashing on her fingers. The man fell to the deck, but when he saw Maria, his eyes grew wide and he scrambled away yelling “Lunger! Lunger!” Vasili did not know the words, but knew their meaning. Everyone moved away and stayed away for the rest of the voyage. Vasili and Maria were lucky the crew was so occupied with the storm and its aftermath that no-one bothered to investigate.

In Bremen, Maria got much sicker. When Vasili went to purchase train tickets, the ticket seller chased him off after seeing Maria.

Maria told Vasili, “I am scared. We are so close, but now I think I will never see Father again. I will die before we get home.”

“I will find a way,” reassured Vasili, but he felt anything but confident about his statement.

Vasili had noticed that there were boxcars being loaded with hay. He waited until dark and saw that the workers had left the doors open to keep the hay from building up the fine dust that could cause an explosion. When darkness came, Vasili carried Maria to one of the open doors and laid her down on the floor of the car. He threw in their bags and jumped up and in.

“Vasili,” Maria said, “I am very afraid. What if the train workers come around and find us. We will end up in prison for sure.”

“Vasili said, “This will work. If we move a few of these hay bales and sit behind them, they will never see us from the door, and they have no reason to look inside.”

Maria nodded her head, knowing that her brother would do what was best for them.

They climbed behind to the front of the car and hid behind a couple of stacked bales. They heard one of the workers approaching, then the sound of the door sliding shut. Just as the worker was swing the latch over to lock the door, Maria let out a small cough. Everything stopped as the worker opened the car door again. One of the other workers came over and they spoke together for a minute.

Vasili had placed his hand over Maria’s mouth, and watched the shadows in the car dance from the worker’s lantern. He hopped up into the car and swung the lantern back and forth, and front to back, then stood very still for a moment. Maria was about to let go with another cough, when the worker placed the lantern on the floor and jumped to the ground with a thud. Maria’s eyes were bulging from the strain as the door finally slid closed and the latch was pushed down, locking the door. After a few minutes, Vasili lifted his hand from Maria’s mouth and she wheezed and gasped, then coughed so hard Vasili could feel the blood on his hand near her mouth.

The train slowly started away from the station as Maria and Vasili prayed the rosary for God’s help in getting them home. They prayed with Maria’s rosary that the boxcar would go as far as Čirč and stop there.

Vasili had stashed away some bread and water in his case, and he brought it out now. He ripped the loaf in half and handed half to Maria.

Maria smiled a bit when she grabbed it and said, “I will miss Nadya’s bread and I will miss Nadya.”

“So Nadya is now your friend,” laughed Vasili. “All it took was one loaf of stale bread!”

Maria laughed as Vasili handed her the water jug.

The next night the train came to a stop. They could hear the voices of the workers shouting, the doors opening, and the cars being unloaded.

Vasili looked concerned and asked Maria, “Do you think you can run for a short time?”

Maria answered, “Can we not sneak out, just like we snuck in?”

Vasili whispered, “We were just lucky then. We may not be so lucky now.”

“I do not know. I think I might fall down. They will catch me then.”

Vasili peered out through a crack in the wooden car and could see military men in front of all of the cars.

“Now I see why they were taking hay by train. It is for the cavalry. Those are Hungarian soldiers, so we must be close to home.”

He crept to the opposite side of the car and looked through another small space between the wooden boards of the wall.

“Come on Maria, I think we can open this door quietly and get out before the soldiers find us. There is so much noise here that I am certain they will not hear us.”

Vasili lifted the door latch and slowly opened the door, stopping every few inches to be sure he was not discovered. When he finally opened it enough to fit them through, he lowered Maria to the ground and jumped down. He reached back for the bags when he saw the railman’s lantern at the end of the train.

“Hey, what are you two doing by this train?” the man shouted.

Vasili looked at Maria and said, “Run!”

By now, some of the soldiers had been alerted and were rounding the back of the train.

“Stop!” yelled the railman.

“Maria, please hurry!” pleaded Vasili.

“I cannot run any faster,” shrieked Maria as she lost her footing and fell to the ground with fits of coughing.

Vasili hesitated for only a second, then decided that he needed to leave the bags. He took Nadya’s picture from his case and threw the rest into the woods. He picked up Maria and threw her over his shoulder, then took off running as fast as he could, heading for the trees. He ran until his legs finally gave out. He dropped to his knees, then gently placing Maria on the ground before falling face first to the wet soil.

“I no longer hear them,” he whispered. “We should be safe for now.”

They waited among the trees until the sun had been up for several hours, then Vasili picked Maria up and hiked out of the woods to get his bearings. When he spotted the hazy mountains he knew so well, he laughed loudly, knowing that they only had half of one day to walk.

Maria was coughing uncontrollably now, the exertion of last night being too much for her frail body. “I can walk Vasili, put me down.”

But Vasili was not about to make his sister strain herself anymore on this journey. “No, I can carry you. You are not a burden.”

“Vasily, please take my rosary,” Maria said softly, holding her precious rosary out in front of Vasili.

“No, it is yours. Mother gave it to you as she was dying.”

“Please, it is the last thing I will ask of you,” Maria said.

“If I do, it means you are dying, and I cannot bear that thought,” said Vasili.

“I beg you, take it Vasili.” Maria’s voice was barely audible.

Vasili took the offering and placed the beads in his side coat pocket, then hurried his pace. He stopped only once, when Maria began to moan. He laid her tenderly in the grass and decided to give her last rites as best he could, not being a priest.

When it was complete, Vasili stood, and in the distance he could see Čirč. He broke into a run, though he could not feel much in his legs, and the pain in his back made him wince with every pounding step.

He ignored it all as he approached his family home. He threw open the door and Mikhal rose from the table, his face showing his surprise and joy.

 Mikhal took Maria from Vasili and held her face in his hands. “My Maria! You are home.” Tears of joy streamed past his smile. “I am so happy to see you again.”

“Father,” whispered Maria.

Mikhal’s smile was soon erased, and replaced by a look of shock, as he realized that Maria had spoken his name with her last breath.

Chapter 9 of the Gray Wolf of Carpathia

She looked at Vasili and in a commanding tone said, “Of course you cannot do this.” Nadya’s guilt at Maria’s plight seemed to vanish.

Still, Vasili stood silently, staring. Nadya’s statement had caused Maria to weep louder and even more pitifully.

“You just cannot Vasili,” demanded Nady. “It is out of the question. We have only been married four months, and you think you should leave me and go back to Čirč?

Finally, Vasili returned his attention to the room. “It is the only thing I can do to make it right,” Vasili said. “I brought her to this place and I should take her home.”

“What about me?” demanded Nadya.

“What about you? What about you?” Vasili emphasized.

“My sister is dying and you are worried only about yourself!”

Maria sobbed, “Please Nadya, do not be angry with me.”

But Nadya was not moved. “How will it look if you suddenly leave me here alone, and how am I to keep this apartment?”

Vasili, his face turning red, said, “This is how it must be Nadya. Maria is my responsibility and—”

“And what,” said Nadya, “And I am nothing because she is sick.”

“Of course not,” said Vasili, calming down. “You can make the trip with us.”

“I cannot return to Čirč. I have nothing there now. My father is gone and my brothers hate me for leaving against my father’s wishes. I knew she would somehow take you away from me. I knew it!”

“You cannot be serious,” argued Vasili. “Do you think she wants to die just to take me away from you?”

“Of course not, but that is what is happening.”

Maria pleaded, “Please Nadya, I cannot make the trip alone. My brother is my only hope. I know how much he loves you and I promise to you he will return as soon as I am home with my father. I cannot die before I see him again. God will curse me for leaving.”

“Why should I trust what you say? If you die in Čirč how do I know Vasili will ever come home?”

Vasili had heard enough. “I will take her back! You do not give me orders. I have listened to you enough and you make no sense.”

Nadya got very quiet but her eyes told the story of her anger with Vasili and her building animosity towards Maria.

“This is her dying wish,” said Vasili in a softer tone. “Please Nadya, you must understand. This is also your family now.”

Nadya walked to the bedroom door, her head bowed in defeat. “I know you will do what you want Vasili,” she said quietly, “but I do not approve, and I do not give you my blessing.”

With that, she went to her bedroom and shut the door.

Vasili looked at Maria. “Do not worry, I will talk to her. She will be see things my way,” said Vasili.

Maria, coughing, choked out, “Don’t you see it yet? She hates me. And now she hates me more. There is no changing her mind.”

“She does not hate you. She is just afraid to be alone. You must understand that she has been alone for a long time, since the Old Country, when she left her father’s house and came here. She felt alone long before she left, after her mother died, when her brothers and her father made it clear they wished they had another son. She has not had someone to love her until I came along, and she is afraid she will never have it again.”

Maria, looking surprised at the length of Vasili’s speech, answered, “Yes, but I am now her enemy because she thinks I want to keep you to myself. This is not true, but it is what she thinks.”

Vasili said, “I will take you home. It is settled. Nadya will understand.”

Vasili went to the kitchen and opened the drawer where they hid their money. He took only enough to ensure he and Maria could could afford the tickets necessary and receive decent treatment along the way. Nadya was sitting in the chair. She was quietly crying.

“Nadya, I love you and I will never abandon you,” said Vasili in a pleading voice. “You must give me your blessing for this or something terrible may happen to us on the trip.”

“So you are going then,” asked Nadya as if she had not heard anything Vasili had said earlier.

“Yes, I am escorting Maria home. I will be back to you as soon as I can. She cannot make it on her own. You can see that.”

“But why must she go back at all? She could stay here. We can make her comfortable.”

Vasili let out a long sigh and said, “I know you have nothing back in Čirč to go back to. But Maria wants so badly to see Father before she dies. If she does not, she says God will curse her. Do you want her to die thinking she is cursed?”

Nadya softened her tone for the first time since Maria asked Vasili to take her home. She said, “No, that would be my sin to bear, and I could not live with it. But Vasili, so many things can happen on a voyage like this.”

“I know. But we made it here, and I will make it back again. That is my promise to you.” Vasili laid down next to Nadya, then embraced her and kissed her with a sweetness he had not shown for months.

“I have to give you my blessing, you know that. I could not forgive myself if something happened to you and I had not. I will give you my blessing, but please Vasili, please come back to me. You and I have loved each other since we were in Čirč, and the moment we met I knew we had to be together.”

“Of course,” Vasili said in the most reassuring tone he could find.  He kissed here on the forehead and whispered, “Thank you.” He knew that he could not make such promises, but he needed Nadya to agree.

I will tell Maria and we will start packing. We will leave tomorrow.

Maria was happy for the first time in many weeks.

“Thank you, thank you,” she said to Vasili.

Vasili could see the spark of Maria in her eyes, and that made him happy.

“You should thank Nadya. She has given us her blessing.”

“But does she mean it?”

“I know her heart. She does.”

Nadya came into the bedroom and sat on Maria’s bed. She said, “I am going to be worried as much as I can bear, and I will be all alone. Just remember that when you get home, and make sure that Vasili returns as fast as he can.”

Maria’s smile faded as she said, “I know what this does to you, but I want you to know that I love you for allowing Vasili to take me. I do not know how you feel about me when you are alone, but I will love you forever.”

Nadya’s face softened and she replied, “I understand you need to go home to see your father. And go with God.”

Nadya and Maria both began to cry as Vasili sat down and hugged them in turn.

“We are family,” he declared. “Nothing can change that.”

He packed a case with clothes they would both need on the way. None of them slept that night.

Chapter 8 of the Gray Wolf of Carpathia

Vasili stood still, staring at the doctor as if he did not comprehend what the doctor had just said.

“Vasili, I said your sister has Consumption. Do you know what that is?”

Vasili knew exactly what it was. He had heard about it many times from the men at the mill and he knew what it meant. He could only nod at the doctor; he could not find words and his throat tightened as if he were being throttled by strong hands.

“Do you understand what can happen to her now?”

Nadya spoke up, knowing that Vasili was not capable of talking right now. “Yes, we understand, Doctor.” She turned to Vasili and quietly said, “You need to sit down for a little while.”

To the doctor she asked, “What do we owe you Doctor?”

The doctor, knowing the plight of these immigrants and knowing the effect of his news, said, “I cannot take your money. You have been through enough tonight. I will check back in a couple of days, but you should be prepared for the worst.”

“Thank you Doctor, for your kindness. And be careful, there is a storm coming.” said Nadya.

She opened the door and as the doctor took a step into the doorway he turned, faced Vasili, and said, “I am truly sorry. There is just nothing that can be done for her.”

When the door closed, the silence in the room was overwhelming. Vasili stood in the same spot, but now his head was bent and he stared at his shoes, worn and battered. “How strange,” he thought, “that right now I am thinking about how to fix my shoes.”

Nadya led him by the arm to his chair in the living room, and gently pushed him down until he sat. She knelt next to the chair and took Vasili’s hand in hers. Everyone could tell when Vasili was angry. Nadya only worried when Vasili was silent. She had only seen him like this once before, when his mother died.

Nadya said, “There is nothing you could have done. You are a good man and perhaps God will reward you and restore Maria’s health. You have been a good brother to Maria all of her life. When she was lost in the valley in the mountains, it was you who found her. You said you would never give up on her. Do not give up now.”

“Nadya, I wish to be alone,” was the only thing he could say.

Nadya knew there was no consoling Vasili when he was like this. She moved her hand away, stood up while keeping her gaze on Vasili, then turned and went into Maria’s bedroom.

As soon as Nadya left the room, Vasili’s eyes filled with tears. “What have I done?” he thought. “I thought I knew better than Father, but I should have listened to him. Why did she have to get sick? I promised Father, her, and God that I would take care of her, and I have failed miserably. I have no honor.”

Vasili remembered his mother and how helpless he felt as she lay dying. If it had not been for him and his brothers and sisters she would have lived. She died slowly from hunger, and none of the children realized that she did not eat so that they could. Vasili wiped his eyes with his handkerchief as he thought of all the times he had complained to his mother about being hungry. “What a fool,” he whispered.

He remembered now his father, who he left to run the small farm with only his brother Havel to help. Havel was barely 17 years old and knew nothing. “I have ruined too many lives,” Vasili thought. “I have ruined too many lives.”

“Now I have led Maria here,” he thought, “and here she will die. I deserve Your punishment God. Punish me for what I have done to this family.”

The pain in his head was almost unbearable; the pain in his soul was permanent. He stood up, went to the kitchen, and poured a large glass of vodka. He sat back down in the living room chair and drained the vodka in two drinks. But he knew that the liquor could not wash away the guilt he was feeling, nor could it stop the self-pity as he desired. Now he could remember things as clearly as if they just happened.

When they were young, Vasili would sit near the fireplace and tell Maria tales of Baba Yaga to make her scared, and just as he would get to the worst part of the story, he would jump up at Maria and make her scream. Then they would both fall into fits of laughter.

One hunting day, Maria begged Vasili to take her with him.

“It is not trip for a girl,” said Vasili. “It is dirty and when I shoot something you will see the blood.” Vasili was doing his best to make her think the worst of the trip so she would not go.

But Maria could always get Vasili to give in to her, and he relented. He told her he would teach her how to hunt, but when they got to the mountains she only seemed interested in picking the wildflowers growing in abundance on the hillsides and next to the streams.

“Vasili!” she shouted. “Come see what I have found!”

Vasili, trying to stay silent for the hunt, came quickly to see what she was fussing about, and to tell her to be quiet. When he saw she was pointing to a field of flowers, he said, “This is your first time hunting, and it will be your last!” His voice echoed from wall to wall down the valley.

But he did not mean it. He had Maria with him on most of his hunting trips after that because she was full of life and joy.

Maria’s crying brought Vasili out of his trance and back to the apartment. He could hear Nadya in the Maria’s bedroom trying to comfort Maria. But Maria could not be comforted.

Running into Maria’s bedroom, Vasili knelt beside Maria’s bed, bowed his head, and said, “This is all my fault. All of it. If we had stayed at home I could be farming and you, you could be a wife by now and living happily in your own home. Instead, I got you sick.”

Maria was weak, but she placed her hand on Vasili’s head and quietly said, “No, dear brother, this is not your fault. I wanted to be here and I am the one that talked Father into allowing it, remember?”

Vasili could only nod his head in silent acceptance. He knelt that way for a few minutes, then said, “I will ask Father Andras to visit you and give you the blessing for the sick.”

Maria answered, “Perhaps you should ask for Posledné rituály.”

“No, this is not the time for Last Rites!” said Vasili. “I do not allow it.”

Nadya had been silent until now. She placed her hand on his shoulder and quietly said, “Vasili, this is not your decision to make. It is up to God to decide.”

Vasili recoiled slightly from her touch and replied, “God cannot have her yet.”

Maria looked at Vasili, her blue eyes full of sympathy for her strong brother. “It is as Nadya says, my wonderful brother,” said Maria. “I am sad if I have to leave you, but it is God’s will.”

“There must be a way to help you,” answered Vasili.

“What did the doctor tell you?” asked Maria.

Vasili hesitated, then said, “It does not matter, he does not know everything.”

“He told you I was going to die, did he not?” said Maria in a matter-of-fact tone.

“Vasili, please stop and listen to me,” Maria demanded. “There is only one thing I am going to ask of you. But you must do this one thing for me.”

“Of course I will do anything you ask,” Vasili answered.

“Please, take me home. I must see Father before I die. Please Vasili.”

Chapter 7 of the Gray Wolf of Carpathia

One June night, Maria came home coughing. Vasili was concerned, as always, but Maria said it was probably just the dust from the factory.

“I’ll be fine in a couple of days,” she assured Vasili. “The factory is never cleaned and when you look at the lights you can see the dirt and fibers like it is a foggy day.”

“But I can see the doctor and get some medicine for you,” said Vasili.

“No, that will be too much money. It’s nothing,” said Maria, with much emphasis at the end.

Vasili did not mention it again, praying that it really was nothing to be concerned about.

It seemed like Maria never minded the hard work she had to do. Vasili would ask her about it every day, and her answer was always the same, “I can do this. Hard work doesn’t bother me. I will not be a useless woman because the work is hard.”

One day she added, “There are boys and girls younger than me that have to climb up on the machines to change the spools. One poor boy lost his leg when the loom started up while he was still on top. The owner had him bandaged up, but then told the Overseer to just take the boy home and leave him there. He said the boy was no good to anyone now.”

Vasili was moved by that story and said, “These owners think that we’re just sheep to do what we’re told; and when they can get no more out of us, they throw us away and get somebody else.”

To Maria he said, “That is why I don’t like you working there. It’s dangerous.”

Maria laughed and said, with sarcasm, “And your job is so safe!”

“That’s different,” said Vasili.

Maria and Nadya had been avoiding each other as much as they could in their small apartment, but one Sunday when Vasili had to work, they ended up seated across from each other at the supper table. Nadya was a good cook and knew the recipes from the Old Country, but she had refused to share them with Maria. On that day, Nadya had prepared halupki, a Rusyn favorite of meat and rice rolled inside a cabbage leaf.

When Maria told Nadya that the meal was delicious and that it reminded her of Čirč, Nadya casually said, “Wouldn’t it be nice to return to Čirč and maybe you could cook for your father and brothers. I imagine they miss a woman’s touch.”

Maria immediately sensed what Nadya was trying to do. While she did miss her father and brothers very much, and Nadya’s mention of them brought pictures in her mind of each of them, Maria knew that Nadya was trying to make her homesick. Maria knew that Nadya was hoping she would leave.

Maria, acting coyly said, “I have told Vasili that he’s stuck with me for life.”

Nadya reacted with barely-contained anger and shot back, “This is not possible. You must either find a husband or go back to Čirč. Either way, you must leave this house.”

Maria had not expected a reaction like that, and dropped all pretense of manners.

“You have degraded me since you met me,” said Maria in a disgusted tone. “I don’t care what you think. It’ss only what Vasili thinks that matters.”

Nadya was becoming more and more angry and blurted out, “You can get sick and die for all I care.”

Maria was genuinely shocked at that statement, and began to bless herself. “You have cursed me,” she accused. “You have cursed me to die.” Maria began to sob uncontrollably.

Nadya then said, “Yes, when we were back in Čirč, I didn’t trust you and I don’t trust you now.”

Maria shot back, “But you were the one that lured me out into the valley and then left me there. I could have died, and I think that would have made you happy.”

Nadya asked, “If it was so bad, why didn’t you tell Vasili?”

“I told him of course, but he was under your spell. He told me that you would never do something like that. He thought you liked me. He was a fool, but I could do nothing.”

“Well, Maria my dear,” said Nadya in that condescending tone that Maria hated, “I have won. Vasili is mine.”

Maria went to her bedroom, buried her face in her pillow, and cried the rest of the night.

More often now, Maria came home from work with a cough. The cough started sounding worse to Vasili, so Vasili spoke to the druggist, who sold him a bottle of Laudanum. It seemed to be helping, but slowly Maria became bedridden and very sleepy during the entire day. Vasili thought that might help the cough, which it did for a while, but with opium and cocaine as the main ingredients, he knew that Maria would have a hard time functioning, and would always want more. She started missing work which Vasili knew would be the end of her working at all.

By the end of June, Maria was only out of bed for a short time, and her skin began to look more sickly and pallid. Her beautiful eyes were sunken in and she could barely talk without coughing.

Nadya asked Vasili, “What are we going to do with Maria? She cannot work, and without that money and her being sick, this is a burden we cannot bear.”

Vasili was trying his best to hold his temper, and blurted out, “What if it was you who was sick like that? What would you have me do to you? Would you have me throw you out into the street?”

Nadya, now upset and angry, said, “Maybe you should send her back to your family.” Vasili could tell that Nadya immediately felt regret for saying that. That realization kept him from becoming even more angry, but in a whisper that still seethed, Vasili said, “If I had known you were this cruel to family, I would not have married you Nadya.”

Nadya began to cry. With tears flowing down her face she said, “I am sorry, I am so sorry Vasili. I didn’t mean that. Please Vasili, forgive me. I love you and I can’t stand to see you in this much pain. It hurts and I said what I didn’t mean.”  At that, she slowly reached her hand for Vasili’s shoulder, afraid that he might slap it away. Instead, he grabbed her arm and pulled her to him, kissing her on the lips and stroking her hair.

“I know that. I’m sorry that I lost my temper. We have only been married two months and you already have to bear this burden with me. I don’t know what to do right now, but I am praying to God for her recovery.”

“I have been going in her room after everyone is asleep and praying the rosary over her. I didn’t want anyone to know for fear it would curse her. I only tell you so that you know that I also pray for her healing.”

Vasili wondered, “Why do you feel this way now? I could see that you didn’t want Maria around here, and now you seem guilty. What have you done?”

At that Maria broke down completely and confessed, “She is sick because I cursed her. I didn’t mean to, Vasili, but I was angry and I cursed her.”

“That is nonsense,” said Vasili, not quite convinced that it was nonsense. All that he knew was that his sister needed help, and he had to help her.

One of the girls from the silk factory stopped by a few days later to see Maria, who was sleeping in her room.

Vasili opened the door and the girl said, “You must be Vasili.”

Vasili answered, “Yes, what is your business?”

“I am Illona. I work with Maria in the factory. I wanted to see how she was doing because she has not been to work in a week.”

“I am sorry Illona,” said Vasili, “Please come in and sit. Maria is sleeping and I don’t want to wake her.”

“Please, that is fine. I was praying the rosary for her last night, so I was hoping she might come back to work. We all love her there. She works very hard.”

“Of course she does,” said Vasili proudly.

Illona’s eyes began to tear up and her face turned red. She was trying to stop and trying to hide it from Vasili.

“What is it? I am sure Maria will be better. We have all been praying and lighting candles at St. Michael’s.”

“The Overseer also ordered me to give her a message.” Illona hesitated, then continued, “He said that she is fired and is not to return to the factory.”

Now Vasili’s face turned a bright red and his eyes projected a fierce anger that was welling up inside of him.

“I will go and talk to that piece of filth,” shouted Vasili.

Nadya, who had been in the kitchen until she heard the shouting, now hurried into the room, wiping her hands on her flowered apron. “Vasili, you know you can’t do that.” Nadya was the only person on earth who could calm Vasili down. “If the bosses in the mill find out, they will fire you too.”

But Vasili’s anger was now nearly out of control.

“I’s my job to take care of my sister. If I have to lose my job to do it, then so be it.”

Illona sat with a shocked and frightened expression on her face.

“I’m sorry. He told me that if I didn’t tell her myself, that I would lose my job.”

Nadya replied, “Of course, of course. I’s not your fault.” Turning to Vasili, she said, almost in a whisper, “Please Vasili, you know that Maria can’t return to work anyway. When she gets better she can go find another job in another factory. You don’t want Maria to get upset do you?”

“No, no, of course not,” said Vasili, ignoring the bit of pain he felt in his arm as he began to calm down. “Thank you for coming Illona, I’ll tell Maria that you came to see her, and I’ll tell her about her job.”

Nadya walked Illona to the door.

Vasili walked into Maria’s room to check on her. As he entered, Maria began one of her coughing fits, holding a handkerchief to her mouth. When she pulled the handkerchief away, it was splattered with blood.

Vasili could see the pain in Maria’s face, but did not know how to comfort her.

“Who were you talking to out there?” Maria wondered.

“It was your friend Illona. She came to see how you are, but I told her you were too sick to see her.”

“Vasili! That’s a terrible thing to do.” But as Maria said these words, she began to cough until she was in spasms. More blood was on her pillow.

Vasili left her room and went straight through to the front door.

“Where are you going?” Nadya’s voice had an edge to it that Vasili had never seen.

“I’m going to find the doctor to come to the house.”

“Do you know what that will cost?” said a worried Nadya.

“It doesn’t matter, this is Maria, and I must get her help.”

Vasili was about to yell, but remembering their conversation the week before, he realized that it wasn’t that Nadya cared more about money than Maria, but Nadya had never had much, and he knew that she was trying to look out for him. But where Maria was concerned, Vasili did not care what the price was.

“She is my sister, and I made her and my father a promise,” was all that he said as he closed the door behind him.

By the time Vasili returned with the doctor, they heard Maria’s terrible screams. When they rushed into her room, they found her lying on her pillow, which was splattered with blood.

“I don’t know what is wrong,” cried Maria, coughing and wheezing. “I—can’t—stop.”

Nadya was sitting on the bed with her, and said, “She has been like this since you left. I’m afraid I have cursed her.”

The doctor moved her out of the way and said, “Nonsense, she is just a very sick young lady.”

He listened to her heart and lungs, took her pulse, and felt her fevered head, then stood up with a very serious look on his face and said to Vasili, “I would like to speak to you in the other room.”

Vasili began to feel sick and he could tell that Nadya, too, could feel that there was terrible news awaiting them in that room.

When Vasili closed the door to Maria’s room, the doctor ran his fingers through his graying hair, then smoothed his thin, graying mustache. He began, “I’m afraid this is not good news. Maria has Consumption.”

Chapter 6

“And I am supposed to shout now too?” Maria was quickly maturing and getting bolder in America.

“It was Nadya, from Čirč!” said Vasili, his voice still full of excitement.

 “Yes, of course I remember her,” said Maria, with barely hidden jealousy.

“I can hear the bitterness in your voice, dearest sister. But you do not need to worry. We are in a strange land now, and I would never abandon you, even for her.”

Maria got very quiet and turned away.

Vasili, clearly annoyed with his sister said, “What is it now?”

“You know what it is, Vasili, you know what happened in Čirč. She pulled you away from me. She is beautiful, her perfect brown hair, green eyes, and always that hint of a smile on her lips. I understand why you can never let her out of you head. She would have been a wonderful wife to anyone, but somehow she chose you.”

“And I chose her,” said Vasili, interrupting Maria. “I cannot help how I feel Maria. She makes me happy.”

Maria needed to talk, so she walked the two blocks to Anya’s building, climbed the three flights of stairs, and knocked on Anya’s door.

“Maria!” Anya said when she opened the door. “I am so happy you visited! But you look sad.”

“I don’t exactly know how to feel, Anya,” said Maria, her eyes fixed on the floor.

“Please come in and sit down. You need to tell me what is troubling you so.” Anya’s soft voice was usually a comfort to Maria, but not this time.

They sat on the well-worn cloth couch in the small sitting room, and Anya sent the children to play in the bedroom.

“Tell me, Maria, what could be so troubling to a young lady?” asked Anya.

“I am afraid that I am losing Vasili,” sobbed Maria, no longer able to hold back her tears.

“Is Vasili sick? What is wrong with him?”

“No, he is not sick. He has met the woman from Čirč that he loved so much. She came here two years ago, and I thought we would never see her again.”

“But, what is wrong with that? Shouldn’t Vasili be happy?” Anya hesitated, the problem now becoming clear to her.

“And you are afraid this woman will take him away from you,” Anya concluded.

Maria said tearfully, “Yes, it happened in Čirč. Her name is Nadya Maydakovich, and she does not like me at all.”

“What has she ever done to you?”

“I am only one year younger than she is, but she speaks to me like I am a child to be sent away. I do not like the way she treats me and Vasili acts like he is under a spell—he says nothing to her about it.”

Anya smiled at that and said, “Men are puppets when they fall in love. Do not be harsh toward him.”

“I try very hard not to be angry with him, but Nadya is another thing.”

“Does she know how you feel?”

“She does not care how I feel.”

“I am sure she is afraid you will take Vasili away from her.”

Maria stopped crying and thought a moment, then said, “Nadya’s mother died giving birth to Nadya, and her father died of a sickness that spread through the village shortly after Nadya and Vasili fell in love. Nadya’s father liked Vasili, but her uncle wanted to force her to marry someone richer than Vasili. She said she would not do it. So she sneaked away one night and never came back. Vasili had not yet asked her to marry him, but I was sure that he wished to ask her because when she left, Vasili became sullen and angry. I knew then that he was in love.”

Anya said “You do understand her.”

“But when she left, I thought Vasili would never see her again. I was happy about it, and I had to go to confession for my sin.”

Maria had resented Nadya first for taking Vasili away, then for leaving him. She was happy when she learned Nadya was leaving for America and she could have her brother back, miserable as he was. 

Anya stayed quiet for a long while, then said, “There is not much you can do. I think you do not like her because she was taking Vasili from you, and she thinks you will keep Vasili from her.”

“Yes, of course you are right,” admitted Maria. “I can try to live with it as long as she is good to Vasili.”

“The only thing that makes me feel better about Nadya is that she seems so in love with Vasili. When she sees him, here face has a light like the summer sunrise over the village. I can see in her eyes that Vasili is the only man she wants to be with. I only hope that I can find a love that makes me feel like that someday.”

“I want to believe that things will not change with Vasili just because he found Nadya again, but I can see in his eyes that he has a bond with Nadya, and I think it will break the bond he has with me.”

Anya said, “Then you must watch for any signs of it. Perhaps Nadya will understand your bond with Vasili and not try to break it. She could be sitting right now, telling a friend of her worry about you.”

“Then I will try,” concluded Maria.

 For the next six months, Vasili spent much of his scarce time off with Nadya, making Maria feel more and more lonely and evoking thoughts of returning home, where her father would at least doted on her. So far, Vasili was still there for dinner and still there in the morning. Maria did not know how much longer that would last, but she assumed that Vasili and Nadya would not get married soon.

But then Vasili came home a few days later and announced with pride, “Nadya and I are getting married! The church will announce the banns starting this Sunday in the bulletin.” 

The banns were printed for three Sundays in a row, and Nadya set the wedding for April 1918. Vasili wrote to his father to tell him the good news. Mikhal wrote back to say that Vasili had better not neglect his sister. Vasili had no intention of neglecting his sister, and resented his father, once again, giving him instructions, even from the Old Country. He could not even congratulate him. Maria convinced him to not get so angry and to let their father’s comments go.

“After all,” said Maria, “he is there and you are here.”

Vasili made the face he always did when he was annoyed at Maria for being right. “Of course you are right,” he whispered, not wanting to say it too loudly. His pride often got in the way of good judgement.

The wedding was a small affair, not like the weddings back in Čirč, when the entire village would come to celebrate. Even though Vasili and Nadya barely knew anyone yet, the entire membership of the Rusyn Club at least attended.

Nadya asked Maria to be her witness and Vasili asked Gregor to be his. Maria had seen many weddings in Čirč and loved the Byzantine ceremony. Father Andras led the celebrants down the aisle, with Vasili and Nadya, hand-in-hand, just behind them. Maria and Gregor followed. Maria thought that Nadya was more beautiful than any bride she had ever seen, and even felt a bit guilty at her behavior lately.

Nadya wore a beautiful dark blue dress with a lace overlay. She had been able to sew the dress just in time for the wedding.

 Vasili was as handsome as a prince in Maria’s childhood fairy tales. He had bought a suit he had been able to buy on payments from the local tailor.

The height of the ceremony was the Byzantine tradition of the crowning of the couple, symbolizing the union of the couple and the victory of Christ over sin and death. The priest gave the final blessing and Vasili and Maria were man and wife.

The Rusyn Club threw a grand reception in the church hall for their newest member and the vodka made certain that it was a raucous affair. All of the guests had plenty to eat and the small group of musicians played the traditional music of home, while the guest danced until they were too tired to dance anymore.  

Vasili had just finished a long dance to the song Sága krásy or Beauty Saga, when he saw Maria sitting by herself with her head down. He walked to her and said gently, “Maria, please. Nadya is a good woman. She likes you and we can all live together.”

“Nadya does not like me at all,” said Maria sharply. “She thinks I will pull you away from her, and I probably would if you could see her as I do.”

“You are just being stubborn now, Maria,” said Vasili gruffly.

“And you are not my father!” cried Maria. The tears welled up in her eyes. “I know she seems to like me, but I think it is just to keep you happy. Inside, I think she cannot wait for me to leave, and maybe I should.”

There is the one thing that could soften Vasili faster than anything. That was seeing his sister cry.

He touched her cheek and gently said, “I will make it be fine. Please, you must not think like that. We are a family now.”

Nadya saw them sitting together, and ran over to Vasili to say, “Vasili, you are forgetting our guests. She will be fine.” When Maria looked up at Nadya, she knew then that this marriage would be bad for her.

Vasili found them a larger apartment, one where Maria could have her own bedroom separate from Vasili and Nadya. Life was never easy for any of them, but for the time being, they found a way to get along.

With the three of them working, Maria and Vasili were able to pay their bills and send some money home to their father. Vasili began to write to his father every couple of weeks with money enclosed, telling his father about their life now that everything was settled. He always made sure that he included that Maria was fine and getting along well with Nadya. He was not sure that Maria or Nadya felt that way, but so he wanted to believe, and so he wanted his father to believe.

Over the next two months, Vasili did see that Maria and Nadya had begun to trust each other more. He could not say they were friends, but because neither one had pulled Vasili away from the other, they were finally at least tolerating each other.

Every Sunday at High Mass, Vasili prayed to God to help the two women in his life get along. He loved his time in church with God. At the end of a week of six intense 16-hour work days, Vasili felt like pieces of him were missing. The mill work made him feel like he was working for the Devil in Hell. The glowing, molten steel reminded him of the stories his mother told him as a child about those who displeased God by doing evil works. He could not say why, but he felt evil at the end of every week. But being here in the church seemed to cleanse him and fill him for the next week.

Maria and Nadya joined the women before every mass to pray the rosary, each on a rosary given to them by their mother. This Sunday was no different. It meant a lot to Vasili to see the two of them praying together. From his vantage point on the mens’ side, it looked as if the two of them were closer than ever.

As the cantor began the Mass, and the congregation stood for the entrance of Father Potok, Vasili saw Maria begin to sway from side to side, then fall in the pew. Father Potok continued down the aisle, seemingly oblivious to Maria’s fall.

Vasili rushed over, much to the surprise of the parishoners. He  lifted Maria in his arms and carried her to the vestibule. 

When Maria finally woke up she gave Vasili a troubled look and said, “What happened?”

Vasili, with obvious concern, said, “You fainted. I don’t know why, but I am worried about you.”

“You do not need to be afraid. I just felt dizzy and then I woke up. It is nothing.”

“I am not so sure.”

“You worry about me too much. I am 18 years old.”

“I made a promise to Father and a promise to God,” said Vasili sternly, “to look after you and protect you.”

“You have done your job, dear brother. As you can see, I am fine.”

Chapter 5 of the Gray Wolf of Carpathia

As the ship entered the New York harbor, Vasili ran to the rail with Maria and Gregor to get a view of their new home. The statue in the harbor was taller and more beautiful than anything Vasili had ever seen. And then he spied the city. Never had he seen such tall buildings and so crowded together!

Vasili looked at Gregor and asked, “How do people live in such places? How can they breathe?”

Gregor smiled and said, “These Americans seem to enjoy living on top of each other. There are no farms around here, only buildings like this.”

“This is a dream,” whispered Maria. “Even our fairy tales do not have places like this.”

Soon enough, reality intruded. The immigration agents had many questions and little patience. Immigrants knew that no matter what, they had to cooperate or be denied entry. So they endured the questions, the doctors’ examinations, the mispronunciation of their names and the new spelling of their names.

Gregor had relatives in Passaic, New Jersey, so with the last of their money, Vasili and Maria joined Gregor and his family on a train to Passaic. Gregor had directions to the American-Rusyn Political and Beneficial Club. There, Vasili and Maria could get help and a small loan to get them started. Gregor invited them to stay with his sister Katarina and her husband, Oeznik, until they could find a place of their own.

“Gregor, we cannot burden your family like that,” said Vasili. “We can find something.”

Gregor replied, “Do not insult me Vasili. You would do the same. Until you get paid, you cannot get an apartment.”

Maria added, “Vasili, we have nowhere to go. Please let us go with him.”

The apartment was not large, but Katarina and Oeznik welcomed them and made them to feel as much at home as was possible in this bewildering new world. Katarina and Oeznik did not have children yet, and Oeznik made a good living as a butcher, so they had an extra room where Gregor’s family could sleep together on a bed, and Vasili and Maria could at least sleep on the floor.   

The Rusyn Club helped Vasili get a job in the Passaic Steel Company mill as a Bottom Maker in the open hearth, and Anya helped Maria get a job in the Guenther silk factory. The three families became close friends over the next month. Anya’s children even called Vasili strýko, which means uncle.

Finally, after a month had passed, Vasili and Maria now had jobs, and they found an apartment they could afford to rent. It only had one bedroom, but they were accustomed to the entire family sleeping in one room. They were only moving a few blocks from Katarina’s apartment, but it felt like they were leaving home all over again. Gregor understood, but he promised they would see each other.

Vasili and Maria were not rich, of course, but were thrilled to be away from the farmlands of their home. They both missed their father, but at least now they were never hungry, and they knew things would get better here. The mills were filthy, and they each had the worst of the jobs that were available, but they had enough to live on and always they put aside money to send back home. The neighborhood was mostly Slovak, which made them feel more at home, and familiar foods and smells filled the markets.

Vasili’s job was back breaking and felt like he was working in Hell. As a Bottom Maker, his job was lining the ingot soaking pits with coke oxide dust after each heating. It was a filthy, and in blazing heat; Vasili would go home covered in the metallic dust and often coughing out what he had inhaled. But he knew he could never make this much money working on the farm and for the baron.

Maria, working as a runner in the silk factory, spent her day running the bobbins from the Winders to the weaving machines. The factory floor was a series of boards with constant water runoff beneath, filled with aggressive rats that Maria had learned to hate and fear on the voyage to America. Maria knew girls who had lost their balance and were bitten by the rats, a fate Maria would avoid by any means. Her Overseer, a large man with an ugly face marred by a large scar running along the side of his face from his eyebrow to his jaw, watched the girls incessantly, always yelling at them to go faster, and ogling them with leering eyes as they passed by him. Maria was lucky; some girls told stories of the Overseer pulling them into his office and threatening them unless they had sex with him. So far, he had left her alone, but Maria did her best to stay away from him.

One night, after they had finished their 12-hour shifts, Maria and Vasili sat down to the dinner that Maria had prepared. Maria sat, fork in hand, staring off into nothing.

“Maria,” said Vasili with a smile. “Where have you gone?”

“I was thinking about how beautiful the trees were back in Čirč in the summer. Here, for now it is winter, and I have these gray buildings surrounding me.”

“Yes, but think of how we have food to eat, and we can send money back to father to help with his expenses.”

“Vasili, do you remember the smell of the mountains?”

“I remember the smell of the dirt,” joked Vasili. “The smell of the pigsty and the smell of the oxen farts.”

Maria smiled, and the smile that lit up her eyes. Vasili loved to see it. His sister was beautiful and would provide a wonderful life to a lucky man. The right man.

Maria continued, “I remember when Mother took us for walks to the Poprad. We would lie on the bank and watch clouds go by.”

“While I was getting kicked by the oxen trying to hitch them to the plow!” Vasili exclaimed, laughing until he choked.

Maria never felt closer to her brother and hoped that it could stay this way forever.

One day, as Maria and Vasili were eating, Maria’s eyes welled up with tears and she put her head down, trying to hide from Vasili.

“What is it?” Vasili asked with concern.

“It is nothing—I—I saw a Weaver today. Start coughing—coughing so hard she fell on the floor. She—covered her—mouth with her hand, and when she moved her hand away, it was bloody. It was awful Vasili.”

“I have heard of this. I hope you stayed away from her.”

“Yes, I was never close to her. Why?”

“There are sicknesses you can get from these other people. Deadly sicknesses.”

“You are scaring me!” cried Maria.

“Alright, I am sorry. I just want you to be safe, that is all. That is my job, and I promised Father I would take care of you.”

“You are a good brother. I shouldn’t have shouted like that.”

“It is fine Maria, it is fine.”

One day late in May, Vasili came home very excited. “Maria!” he shouted as soon as the door was open. “You would not believe who I met today!”

Maria stood in the tiny kitchen, trying to light the wood stove.

“Who is so important that you need to shout like that?” asked Maria.

“I met Nadya Maydakova!”

Chapter 4 of the Gray Wolf of Carpathia

Chapter 4 of the Gray Wolf of Carpathia
Note to readers: Č is pronounced as a “ch,” as in “church.”

Petra burst through the door of their train car.
“Quickly, you must get off now!” Petra said, his voice straining to keep from yelling too loud. “We have been betrayed by the conductor in Car 1. If they find you here, they will arrest all of us!”
Vasili grabbed their only bag, and took Maria’s hand. He could only say “Thank you Petra” before Petra shoved them out of the opposite door from where the policemen entered the train.
“May God bless you,” was the last thing Petra could get out before closing the door.
As Vasili and Maria crept along towards the back of the train, they could hear the police yelling something at Petra. Petra’s calm voice said, “I do not understand you. I do not speak Hungarian.”
That seemed to enrage one of the policemen even more. Suddenly the door to the car from which Vasili and Maria had come was thrown open and Petra was tossed like a cheap toy to the ground. Vasili and Maria had made it to the back of the train by then and hid in the shadows.
Two gunshots broke the temporary silence, followed by a short scream by Petra. Maria let out a small squeak before Vasili placed his hand over her mouth. The policeman, with gun in hand, peered towards the back of the train.
Vasili and Maria ran as silently as they could into the surrounding forest, praying that they would not be followed. They did not emerge until they heard the train pulling away. Petra lay dead along the tracks.
Maria looked at Vasili and was nearly hysterical as she said, “What have we caused?”
Vasili, knowing that there was nothing to be done, simply said, “We can do nothing for poor Petra now. I think he knew the chance he was taking.”
Vasili looked at Petra in the dim light of the stars. “We only have our suitcase. We must try to find some food and water.”
Maria was scared and shivering. She said “Where will we find those things? We have no money.”
“We will steal what we need from the Hungarians,” replied Vasili.
“No, I cannot.”
“Do you wish to live long enough to get to the ship?”
Maria nodded.
“Then we must do whatever we must do.”
They walked along the edge of the forest for several hours, and just before dawn they spotted a farmhouse set within a cleared field. Smoke was billowing from the chimney, indicating the fire had just been lit, and lamp light glowed within.
As the approached the house, the door swung inward and a man in his nightshirt ran onto the porch. He held up his hand and yelled in a language that Vasili did not understand. He realized it was German. He dropped his bag and showed his hands to the farmer, then had Maria show her hands.
“I do not understand you,” said Vasili, “but we are hungry and thirsty,” whereupon he pointed to his mouth and his stomach.
The farmer seemed to understand what he meant. He looked from Vasili to the single bag to Maria and back. He hesitated a moment, then waved them in.
The farmer’s wife was just finishing cooking breakfast and the farmer indicated to Vasili and Maria to sit at the rough-hewn table. The fire felt good after they spent the night in the damp, cool forest. The wife put down plates and cups and served them some eggs and some sort of spicy meat. She filled their cups with water.
“I speak Hungarian,” said the farmer. He pointed to Vasili and said, “you speak Hungarian?”
Because the Hungarians had forced them to learn their language, Vasili did understand. “Yes,” he nodded.
The farmer smiled and said “Good. Now, my name is Karl and this is my wife Gertrude.”
Vasili introduced himself and Maria, and thanked them for being so kind.
Gertrude said, “What has brought you wandering through the forest like that?”
Maria began to cry, bringing the attention of Gertrude, who sat next to her and hugged her.
Vasili told their tale. When he was done, he was afraid Karl would turn them over to the authorities. Instead, Karl sat back in his chair and smiled warmly. “We understand. We have had others come through here that were trying to escape Hungary, though not many with so dramatic a tale!”
After breakfast, Karl insisted on giving them some food and water, and then on driving them in his wagon to town to catch the next Northbound train to go to Bremen. When they got to the train station, Karl went to the ticket window and bought two tickets to Bremen. He came back to the wagon and handed them to Vasili.
“This is too much,” insisted Vasili. “How can I ever repay such a debt.”
The farmer guffawed loudly and said, “There is no need to worry my new friend! I am happy to help such good people as you.”
The train had stopped, so Vasili and Maria had to say their goodbyes to Karl and Gertrude, then quickly boarded the train.
As the train got back underway. Maria and Vasili slept most of the way, exhausted from the tension of the last two days. Finally, in Bremen, they were able to use most of the rest of their money to buy their tickets to America on board the H.H. Meier.
Their money could only afford them a passage in steerage, and as they stepped down the final staircase to the lower deck, Maria could barely stand the smell and the darkness. “Please stay close to me,” she pleaded to Vasili, her eyes filling with tears. “I never knew it would be so horrid.”
“Do not worry, I am here and I will watch over you.”
The next twelve days were mostly miserable for both of them. The meals were poor, even by peasant standards. The boiled beef and salt pork often smelled rotten and were barely cooked. The black bread was soggy, the vegetables were unrecognizable. The breakfast, some kind of mushy grain, tasted like old wood. Like most of the passengers, Vasili and Maria threw a good many of their meals overboard. They were constantly hungry and thirsty, so when trays of leftover fruits were brought down from the cabin passengers, they cherished them like candy.
Five days into the voyage, Maria was seasick and homesick, and tired of chasing the rats that were constantly running over her as she tried to sleep. A large man, who had been drinking, was speaking a language she did not understand. He stumbled into her space then tried to steal her bag; the bag contained the only remaining money she had. When she resisted, the man pulled her close and ran his hands over her, whispering, in his language, “Well, then, I suppose we will have to settle this another way.” Although she did not understand his words, she knew what he intended.
As the last syllable left his wretched lips, a fist hurtled past Maria’s head and slammed into the man’s nose, which burst with blood as the man fell to the deck. Vasili grabbed Maria’s arm and pushed her behind him. The man tried to stand, but Vasili placed a kick to his head, knocking him unconscious. Vasili looked at Maria and said, “Sorry that took so long.” Maria could not speak, but clutched her mother’s rosary to her chest and prayed.
The compartment fell silent for the first time since Maria and Vasili had entered. The ship’s purser then burst out of the crowd with two sailors. He seemed about to grab Vasili when he saw Maria behind him. He looked into Vasili’s eyes, then down at the man on the deck, and he understood. At his direction, the sailors wordlessly dragged the worthless man away, and he was not seen again on the voyage.
Finally, seven days into the voyage, Vasili overheard someone speaking in Slovak. He and Maria went over and found a family that was from the same district, Stara Lubovna, as Vasili and Maria. They had relatives waiting for them in America, and because they knew that Vasili and Maria could use the help, they offered to help them get to Passaic, New Jersey where Vasili and Maria could both find jobs.
The father, Gregor Petrovich, a tall and broad man with a smile to match and a mustache that covered his mouth, grabbed Vasili by the shoulders and said, “We Rusyns are of the same stock, and we must help each other as we can.” His tiny wife Anya, who barely reached to Gregor’s chest, even offered some food from home that they had been saving.
After that meeting, they all stayed together and helped each other get through the dismal voyage by telling tales from home. Vasili knew all of the great folk tales, and kept the children entertained. Maria finally felt like this voyage might work out after all.

Chapter 3 of the Gray Wolf of Carpathia

Two days later, as the mountains began to cast shadows on the village, Vasili and Maria sat on the fence outside of their shed.
“I am scared,” said Maria as she looked at the ground. “Will I ever return do you think? Will we ever see Father again?”
“I do not have the answers you are looking for. I will miss our family and our friends. But I know that when we make enough money, we can maybe return and help Father and the family. And I am a little scared myself,” said Vasili reassuringly.
Vasili leaned over and hugged his little sister, gently kissed her on her head, and whispered, “I will always watch over you dear one. Always.”
Maria smiled, wiped away the tear that had trickled down her cheek, and said, “We need to get ready.”
Vasili’s brother Havel and his sister Nadya were still finishing up their chores. Inside they found Mikhal sitting at the table, staring into the crackling fire. Mikhal did not acknowledge their presence until Vasili spoke up. Mikhal turned his face and it was then that they could see the lines from his tears running down his cheeks.
“We know this is very hard for you,” whispered Vasili. He was the eldest son, so the hurt was more painful.
Maria stepped across the room and hugged her father from the back, her arms squeezing around his shoulders and across his chest.
“Father, we love you, but this is our chance to help more than if we stayed here and tended the farm.”
The firelight was sparkling in her green eyes, reminding Mikhal so much of her mother Anna.
“You are my bright one, Maria. You are my joy, and your mother would be proud of you. Now you two get your bags and go meet Alexey. The train will never wait for you.”
Vasili and Maria hugged Mikhal one last time, and as they separated, Mikhal pressed money into Vasili’s hand and pressed a rosary into Maria’s hand. “This rosary belonged to your mother. I want you to have it to remember where you have come from.”
“I could never forget my home, and I am sure that Mother’s spirit will protect me and keep me safe.”
Mikahly recited the blessing three times as was the custom, “I bless you both in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Vasili and Maria hugged Havel and Nadya, all four of them wishing each other love, and all four wondering if they would see each other again.

The three conspirators met on the road out of Circ a few hours later. There were no houses there, and no snooping eyes watching in the dark.
“Just follow my lead,” whispered Alexey. “There is a policeman at the station, but I think we can get around him. Petra always leaves a door open on the opposite side of the train for me.”
As the three of them approached the station, Vasili spotted a policeman looking towards them. They turned down the road away from the station, then cut into the woods when they were out of sight. Vasili peered through the brush, but the policeman seemed to have more interest in getting his pipe lit in the windy night. When they emerged from the woods on the opposite side of the train from the station, they ran to the train and climbed into the last passenger car available. The train began to move, giving the three of them a feeling of relief. Alexey seemed joyous as he smiled broadly at Vasili and Maria and said, “Well my friends, we have done well this night.”
The train came to a sudden halt, and they could hear voices outside. Petra appeared in their car. He looked at Alexey, and without speaking, shifting his eyes in a way to indicate something was wrong behind him. The police must be coming through. Alexey told Vasili and Maria to hide behind the last seats and he would take care of it.
From the car in front of theirs, they could hear the policeman shouting, “I will need to see your passports.”
Before the policeman could make it into their car, Alexey whispered to Vasili and Maria, “stay hidden behind the seat, you will make it my friends.”
Vasili wanted to shout, but knew he could not.
Alexey stood up, strode to the next car and yelled “I do not have a passport.”
The policeman eyed him suspiciously, but he knew that if he pulled in even one of these young men tonight, his lieutenant would be happy. He grabbed Alexey’s arm without looking farther into the car and pulled him forward in the train.
When he had gone, Petra came back to Vasili and Maria. “You can come out. He will not bother you now, he has done his day’s work.”
“But what will happen to Alexey?” sobbed Maria. “We cannot let him get arrested for us!”
“You have no choice. He knew what would happen. He must love you two dearly. When they find out his name and age, they will place him in the army after they make him sorry for crossing them.”
The train started back up, and they could see Alexey being pulled into the station. But as he looked their way he smiled a broad smile, in spite of the blood that had already stained his teeth. Maria opened her hand and realized she had been gripping her rosary so hard that she could see the impression of the three-barred cross in her palm. She looked up and when her eyes met Vasili’s, she could see that he understood.
They fell asleep as the train rounded the bend, following the Poprad through the mountains, then into the northern reaches of the Empire. It was late in the year, but the snows that often blocked the rails had not yet started to fall.

When they awoke, hazy sunlight was just starting to flow down the mountains to bathe the valley in golden hues. The trees were turning various shades of yellow and red. For Vasili and Maria it felt like it was the first time that they felt the beauty of their home mountains. Vasili had always loved the mountains. When he hunted, he had enjoyed the mountain air and the smell of the tall pines that grew up higher on the ridge. But those times were short-lived; something always needed tending at the farm.
He looked at Maria with a large smile and said, “Do you remember when we wandered off into the mountains. Mother was frantic.”
Maria smiled wistfully. “And you got the switch for taking me with you!”
“It was worth it. We explored the forests like we were in Tale of the Disobedient Children.”
“I was afraid Berstuk would grab me at any moment,” Maria laughed as she mentioned the old god of the forest.
They were so intent on their happy memories that they did not notice the train had stopped in Krakow.
Maria’s smile turned to anguish as two agents dressed in the gray uniforms of Hungarian police appeared in their car.

Chapter 2

“Maria is eighteen, she can decide for herself.” Vasili was angry that his father could not see it.
“She is still my daughter, and she will remain in Circ until she is married. Then she can do what her husband wants to do,” Mikhal said with finality.
“I will watch over her as well as any husband. I am her brother. She will find a good husband in America, and will have a better life there than she will find here.”
“And what is wrong with this life?” Mikhal asked indignantly.
“We barely have enough to eat. The Kovalyaks and Tomkivs have lost children because they could not feed them. We only eat bread on Sundays, and not many of them. I am tired of eating potatoes every day.
“The Hungarians tax us for more than we can afford, and put us in prison when we cannot pay.
“I have heard about the mills that make steel. They will take any workers, and I must make money to help our family. Maria can work in the clothing factory. We will send money back to you.”
“I told you, I have been there Vasili—”
Vasili cut him off, “Yes! I have heard this too many times.”
“It is the truth, and it will be the same for you. I dug coal for them and got sick from the mines. I came back as soon as I could with some extra money.”
“Where has that gotten you now?” sneered Vasili.
Ignoring his son’s bitter answer, Mikhal asked, “And what about the army? The Hungarians will be through here soon, looking for you and your friends. They will not give you a passport when you owe them three years’ service.”
“I owe them nothing!” shouted Vasili. “I do not need a passport if I stay away from the police at the train stations. When we get over the border, it will no longer matter.”
Mikhal asked, “And where will you get the money to travel, are you a Magyar now? Do you have secret money I cannot see?”
“Yes, I have been putting money aside every time I work on the Baron’s land. I have enough for both of us now.”
“It does not matter. I forbid it.”
Vasili turned and walked slowly to the door.
He turned and gave Mikhal a threatening gaze. “I am going, and I will take Maria with me. I have promised her that I would not leave without her.”
“Then do not leave.”
Vasili threw the door open and strode from the house, angry but more certain than ever that he was right. Maria met him a few feet from the front door.
“What did he say?” she asked, hopeful that this time her father would relent.
“It is always the same. “I was there, I know better than you!’” Vasily’s mocking tone was biting.
“Please do not do that Vasili!” Maria pleaded. “He means well but I think he does not realize that you are a man now and you can decide these things.”
“I may have to go alone. I do not know how to change his mind.”
“Let me try. Perhaps you are too much like him, and you two can never agree.”
“Fine, but this is the last chance. I am leaving for Munich next week. I want you to see America, but I will go alone if I have to.”
The next morning, after Maria had fed the pigs and chickens and let the sheep and cows out to pasture, she found Mikhal near the house, repairing the fencing.
As she approached, Mikhal, knowing why she wanted to see him, said, “You can stop right there and go back to the house. I have not changed my mind since yesterday.”
“I know, but did you not meet Mother there in America? Why can I not have the same chance?”
“Your mother and I knew each other from here. It was easy. You will know only Vasili. Do you think that a rich American is just going to come along for a poor Rusyn factory girl, marry you and take you to his giant house in the city?” Mikhal reproached Maria, but his voice was gentle.
Maria began to cry, quietly at first, but then sobbed uncontrollably, her shoulders shaking and her face red and wet with tears.
“I-am-tired of being-hungry. I want-to live-” she could barely whisper the words, yet they were a stinging rebuke to Mikhal. His Anna had died only last year, and he remembered how they had fallen in love in America, and how she had secretly sacrificed her own life so that he and the children could live.
He stood from the fencepost and stretched out his arms to her, taking her in an embrace.
“Do not cry, little one. Maybe Vasili can take care of you.”
She pulled slightly away, wiped her face with her sleeve, and smiled broadly, her eyes focused on Mikhal and full of love and happiness.
“Thank you Father. Thank you. You will be proud of me. You will be happy that you allowed me to go!”
Maria ran and gave Vasili the good news.
“I do not know how you did it, but I am proud of you.
“Next week we leave this Hungarian hole and we start off for America!”

In the morning, Vasili sought out the friend he knew would help him. He saw Alexey opening the gate to let the cows to pasture.
Alexey Borovsky was one of Vasili’s best and most trusted friends. They had known each other as long as they could remember. With Nicolos Petrovich, they were always together, and always getting into some kind of trouble. The babushkas all knew them and scolded them every time they crossed their paths.
“Nicolos Petrovich,” they would shout, “I see you behind the shed. If I catch you I will give you the switch to your behind!”
Of course, they could never catch the three young men, but the laughter would echo off the houses as they ran for the hills.
Vasili, Alexey, and Nicolos were inseparable. They had stayed together, learned to hunt together, and at times argued when they went after the same girl.
Alexey had helped several other men escape to Poland so they could journey to America.
Most of them, like Mikhal, had returned of course, having made money, but having paid the price with their health. Most of the men ended up in the coal mines, or in the steel mills. In any case, they were the bottom of the rung, and were given the worst and dirtiest jobs. But they needed to make money and come back home so they could feed their families. Very few of them intended to stay. It was extremely difficult to get an entire family out of Hungary without passports. And the Hungarians would never give a passport to a family with a man of military age.
But Alexey was the kind of person that knew how to get things done. He knew the right people to talk to, and had spoken before about getting fake passports that would be good enough to get Vasili out of the country.
“Do you not have chores, my friend,” inquired Alexey when he saw Vasili waiting by the fence.
“Are you going to stand there like a frozen hen or do you want something?”
“I need a favor,” said Vasili.
“Of course you do! And I am the man to grant you that favor, eh?”
“This time it is a big favor.”
“Bigger than showing you how to be a good farmer?” joked Alexey.
“I was a good farmer when you were still wetting your diapers.”
Both laughed, but then Vasili’s face took on a very serious look.
“What is it, my friend, what troubles you so much?”
“My father has finally given me permission to take Maria and go to America.”
“And why is that so bad? You have been trying for two years with your father.”
“Because you know I cannot get a passport, not a legal one anyway.”
“Ahh, so now I see why you need me now.” Alexey said with a large grin. “The problem is that no one is making the passports anymore. The Hungarians found out about Janos in Lubotin. He has disappeared and everyone is afraid now.”
“Even so, we need to leave as soon as we can, before they come for me, and before my father changes his mind.”
“Hah! I understand. As a matter of fact, I have decided to also leave. I will not join the Hungarian army. Besides, I know you need the help.”
“What I need is to get past the police guarding the train station.”
It was only a matter of two miles to the Polish border. Once in Poland, nobody cared about the Hungarian passports, and they would be free to head to Bremen, where most of the ships were docked that would take them to America. But the Hungarians were watching the trains and the border carefully. They knew that the Rusyns would rather flee than serve their three years, even though it was considered the patriotic thing to do.
“We can handle it. I am the sneakiest man in the Carpathians! My friend Petra is the conductor on the train that comes by in two days.”
“I need more time than that!” Vasili exclaimed.
“It is either that or you swim the Poprad. After this trip, my friend will not be on that train again until next month.”
“Fine then. When does the train come through?”
“The day after tomorrow at 10:30. The train only stops for 10 minutes and we have to get on from the other side so the police do not see us.”
“But what about tickets?”
“Do not trouble yourself about tickets. Petra collects the tickets, and he knows me. I’ve ridden that train many times for free.
“Meet me here at 10:15.”
“Thank you.” The simple statement was all that was required between friends.

The Gray Wolf of Carpathia

Chapter 1

The impenetrable Carpathian night consumed the day as Vasili lay shivering in the trench they had scraped out of the ice and snow—so frozen that it was nearly as hard as the rock below it. The army had issued him the wool clothing that barely kept out the cold. Humans were not meant to live in these conditions, but what choice did he have?

The screams of the wounded from the day’s battle echoed down the canyons until stifled by the gray wolves. It chilled Vasili as it did the other men to hear the final cries in the dark, knowing that any one of them could be next. Tomorrow they would see the streams of red, frozen so fast that they never soaked into the snow. The bright red ice would remind him that his time was soon. And when it came it would not be peaceful.

If they were attacked, he would never be able to fire a shot. Everything on his Steyr Monnlicher M1895 was frozen. It took him five minutes to defrost the gun enough to allow the bolt to operate and the trigger to move. Far too late as the flashing bayonets would come over the lip of his hole.

They could never surrender. Vasili knew what it meant to be captured by the Russians. The Russians hated the Hungarians, the Germans, and the Austrians. But they had a particular hatred for the Rusyns because of the Rusyns’ stubborn attempts at separation from Russian influence.

“Vasili, you dog! Wake up before I shoot you!” Vasili knew enough Hungarian to understand the sergeant’s order, and he was smart enough to know what happened to those who did not obey.

“I am awake. What is it?”

“We are hitting the Russian bastards now. Get up and get ready!”

The fear rose to a peak in Vasili as he heard the charge of the Tsarist army echoing through the hills.

“Vasili! Wake up, Vasili! You are screaming again in your sleep!”

“I am sorry Marja, I cannot help myself.”

“I know Vasili. Is it the war?”

“It does not matter. It is just a nightmare.”

“But why will you not tell me about it?”

“Just go back to sleep. I am fine.”

In the morning, Vasili sat at the small kitchen table, his palms pressing into his eyes, his fingers gripping his blonde-hair.

“Is it the headaches again?” asked Marja as she hugged him around his shoulders. In the two years since Vasili had returned, he had been plagued by these awful headaches and nightmares from which he awoke screaming in terror.

“Yes, of course,” replied Vasili. “They never stop.”

Marja’s hand inadvertently went to pat Vasili’s back, making him pull away from her and flash his angry blue eyes back at her.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I did not mean to touch there. It was an accident,” Marja apologized.

“I have told you,” Vasili spat out, “you do not touch there, ever.”

The scar on his back was a constant reminder of the scar on his soul. It was the scar that meant he could never be forgiven—not by the priest, not by God, and not by himself.

“Father Durisin keeps asking why you do not go to mass.” It was Sunday, and Marja was carefully changing the subject and trying delicately to prod Vasili to go to church with her.

“That is not Father’s business,” growled Vasili. “That is my business.”

The Byzantine religion was deeply rooted in all Rusyns. It was not just an obligation, it was a way of life, and it permeated everything a good Rusyn did.

Marja turned to finishing the breakfast dishes without another word. She knew better than to push Vasili too hard. There was a space within him that Marja could not fill. God could not fill. It was his alone to bear. They had known each other since childhood in Circ. They had spent many hours walking the mountain paths into the beautiful Carpathians. Marja often wondered why her father left in the first place. The farming work was hard but peaceful. They were far enough from the Hungarians that they rarely came around to torment them. There had been animosity between the Hungarians and Rusyns for longer than anyone could remember, and they had been subjects of the Hungarian Empire for a thousand years, but Franz Joseph was especially determined to eliminate their language and their culture, turning them into Hungarians.

“You go alone. I have nothing to say to God today.”

“Please, it is your soul I pray for.”

“My soul is black, and I will be in Hell.”

“I just want you to—”

“Enough!” Vasili was shouting now. This weekly conversation had taken place since he returned from the war that had taken his humanity and his soul. Every time they had this conversation, Vasili would stare at the wall, his thoughts kept securely to himself, reminding him of how this journey started.

Vasili had been a farmer like his ancestors for as many generations as the family could remember. They had just enough land to feed themselves and had lived in the same log home built by his grandfather. Their two oxen helped with the plowing, the one cow gave them milk, the six sheep gave them wool, and the two pigs would give them pork.

His village sat at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains. The people of his village had no time to stare off at the mountains to appreciate the beauty and majesty. But Vasili knew those mountains. His father Mikhal had taken him hunting there since he was a small boy.

There were many rumors of a great country called America where many of their friends had gone. They knew only that the streets were gold, and a man could do whatever he wanted to do, and be whatever he wanted to be. When Vasili dreamed, he dreamed of such a place. Tall mountains, wheatfields as far as the eye could see, and cities, where so many people lived that they had to live in tall brick buildings. Often, his father would smack him in the back of the head when he caught young Vasili dreaming of that land.

His father would scold, “Vasili, do not dream of what you cannot have.”

“You and Mother were married there, why can we not return?”

“To that place, never,” Mikhal spat the words. “We could not stand the smell. The factories were the only places for people like us. I have told you this many times. All those people living on top of one another. The smoke and soot, we could never breathe properly. This is where we belong. This is our land.”

“It will never be our land so long as the Hungarians can come and take it. They have taken almost everything from us to pay for that Emperor to live in gold palaces. One of these days, we will not be able to pay the taxes, and they will take our land like the Kovalchiks.”

“No, one day we will have our own land. We will not live under the boot of the Magyars forever.”

“I will be long dead before that day comes, so why should I wait?”