A TALE OF THE BLACK FOREST
BY THE AUTHOR OF "LITTLE HAZEL, THE KING'S MESSENGER" "UNDER THE OLD OAKS; OR, WON BY LOVE" ETC. ETC.
THOMAS NELSON AND SONS, LTD.
LONDON, EDINBURGH, AND NEW YORK
I. LOST IN THE WOODS 9
II. THE WOOD-CUTTER'S HUT 16
III. FRIDA'S FATHER 23
IV. THE PARSONAGE 29
V. THE WOODMEN'S PET 36
VI. ELSIE AND THE BROWN BIBLE 42
VII. IN DRINGENSTADT 46
VIII. THE VIOLIN-TEACHER AND THE CONCERT 54
IX. CHRISTMAS IN THE FOREST 68
X. HARCOURT MANOR 76
XI. IN THE RIVIERA 86
XII. IN THE GREAT METROPOLIS 95
XIII. IN THE SLUMS 104
XIV. THE OLD NURSE 115
XV. THE POWER OF CONSCIENCE 127
XVI. THE STORM 131
XVII. THE DISCOVERY 137
XVIII. OLD SCENES 151
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Looking anxiously at the babe in her arms Frontispiece
Ere the child consented to go to bed she opened the little "brown book" 17
"Come, Frida," she said, "let us play the last passage together" 66
LOST IN THE WOODS.
"When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up."
"See, Hans, how dark it gets, and thy father not yet home! What keeps him, thinkest thou? Supper has been ready for a couple of hours, and who knows what he may meet with in the Forest if the black night fall!" and the speaker, a comely German peasant woman, crossed herself as she spoke. "I misdoubt me something is wrong. The saints preserve him!"
The boy, who looked about ten years old, was gazing in the direction of a path which led through the Forest, but, in answer to this appeal, said, "Never fear, Muetterchen; father will be all right. He never loses his way, and he whistles so loud as he walks that I am sure he will frighten away all the bad—"
But here his mother laid her hand on his mouth, saying, "Hush, Hans! never mention them in the twilight; 'tis not safe. Just run to the opening in the wood and look if ye see him coming; there is still light enough for that. It will not take you five minutes to do so. And then come back and tell me, for I must see to the pot now, and to the infant in the cradle."
The night, an October one, was cold, and the wind was rising and sighing amongst the branches of the pine trees. Darker and darker gathered the shades, as mother and son stood again at the door of their hut after Hans had returned from his useless quest. No sign of his father had he seen, and boy though he was, he knew too much of the dangers that attend a wood-cutter's life in the Forest not to fear that some evil might have befallen his father; but he had a brave young heart, and tried to comfort his mother.
"He'll be coming soon now, Muetterchen," he said; "and won't he laugh at us for being so frightened?"
But the heart of the wife was too full of fear to receive comfort just then from her boy's words.
"Nay, Hans," she said; "some evil has befallen him. He never tarries so late. Thy father is not one to turn aside to his mates' houses and gossip away his time as others do. It is always for home and children that he sets out when his work is done. No, Hans; I know the path to the place where he works, and I can follow it even in the dark. Stay here and watch by the cradle of the little Annchen, whilst I go and see if I can find thy father."
"Nay, Muetterchen," entreated the boy; "thee must not go. And all alone too! Father would never have let you do so had he been here. O Mutter, stay here! Little Annchen will be waking and wanting you, and how could I quiet her? O Muetterchen, go not!" and he clung to her, trying to hold her back.
Just as his mother, maddened with terror, was freeing herself from his grasp, the sound of a footstep struck her ear, and mother and child together exclaimed, "Ah, there he comes!"
Sure enough through the wood a man's figure became visible, but he was evidently heavily laden. He carried, besides his axe and saw, two large bundles. What they were could not be distinguished in the darkness.
With a cry of joyous welcome his wife sprang forward to meet her husband, and Hans ran eagerly to help him to carry his burden; but to their amazement he said, though in a kindly tone, "Elsie—Hans, keep off from me till I am in the house."
The lamp was lighted, and a cheerful blaze from the stove, the door of which was open, illumined the little room into which the stalwart young wood-cutter, Wilhelm Hoerstel, entered.
Then, to the utter astonishment of his wife and son, he displayed his bundle. Throwing back a large shawl which completely covered the one he held in his arms, he revealed a sleeping child of some five or six years old, who grasped tightly in her hand a small book. In his right hand he held a violin and a small bag.
Elsie gazed with surprise, not unmingled with fear. "What meaneth these things, Wilhelm?" she said; "and from whence comes the child? Ach, how wonderfully beautiful she is! Art sure she is a child of earth? or is this the doing of some of the spirits of the wood?"
At these words Wilhelm laughed. "Nay, wife, nay," he replied, and his voice had a sad ring in it as he spoke. "This is no wood sprite, if such there be, but a little maiden of flesh and blood. Let me rest, I pray thee, and lay the little one on the bed; and whilst I take my supper I will tell thee the tale."
And Elsie, wise woman as she was, did as she was asked, and made ready the simple meal, set it on the wooden bench which served as table, then drew her husband's chair nearer the stove, and restraining her curiosity, awaited his readiness to begin the tale.
When food and heat had done their work, Wilhelm felt refreshed; and when Elsie had cleared the table, and producing her knitting had seated herself beside him, he began his story; whilst Hans, sitting on a low stool at his feet, gazed with wondering eyes now on the child sleeping on the bed, and then at his father's face.
"Ay, wife," the wood-cutter began, speaking in the Plattdeutsch used by the dwellers in the Forest, "'tis a wonderful story I have to tell. 'Twas a big bit of work I had to finish to-day, first cutting and then piling up the wood far in the Forest. I had worked hard, and was wearying to be home with you and the children; but the last pile had to be finished, and ere it was so the evening was darkening and the wind was rising. So when the last log was laid I collected my things, and putting on my blouse, set off at a quick pace for home. But remembering I had a message to leave at the hut of Johann Schmidt, telling him to meet me in the morning to fell a tree that had been marked for us by the forester, I went round that way, which thou knowest leads deeper into the Forest. Johann had just returned from his work, and after exchanging a few words I turned homewards.
"The road I took was not my usual one, but though it led through a very dark part of the Forest, I thought it was a shorter way. As I got on I was surprised to see how dark it was. Glimpses of light, it is true, were visible, and the trees assumed strange shapes, and the Forest streams glistened here and there as the rising moon touched them with its beams. But the gathering clouds soon obscured the faint moonlight.—You will laugh, Hans, when I tell you that despite what I have so often said to you about not believing in the woodland spirits, that even your good Muetterchen believes in, my heart beat quicker as now one, now another of the gnarled trunks of the lower trees presented the appearance of some human form; but I would not let my fear master me, so only whistled the louder to keep up my courage, and pushed on my way.
"The Forest grew darker and darker, and the wind began to make a wailing sound in the tree-tops. A sudden fear came over me that I had missed my way and was getting deeper into the Forest, and might not be able to regain my homeward path till the morning dawned, when once more for a few minutes the clouds parted and the moon shone out, feeble, no doubt—for she is but in her first quarter—and her beams fell right through an opening in the wood, and revealed the figure of a little child seated at the foot of a fir tree. Alone in the Forest at that time of night! My heart seemed to stand still, and I said to myself, 'Elsie is right after all. That can only be some spirit child, some woodland being.'
"A whisper in a little voice full of fear roused me and made me approach the child. She looked up, ere she could see my face, and again repeated the words in German (though not like what we speak here, but more the language of the town, as I spoke it when I lived there as a boy), 'Father, father, I am glad you've come. I was feeling very frightened. It is so dark here—so dark!' As I came nearer she gave a little cry of disappointment, though not fear; and then I knew it was no woodland sprite, but a living child who sat there alone at that hour in the Forest. My heart went out to her, and kneeling down beside her I asked her who she was, and how she came to be there so late at night. She answered, in sweet childish accents, 'I am Frida Heinz, and fader and I were walking through this big, big Forest, and by-and-by are going to see England, where mother used to live long ago.' It was so pretty to hear her talk, though I had difficulty in making out the meaning of her words. 'But where then is your father?' I asked. I believe, wife, the language I spoke was as difficult for her to understand as the words she had spoken were to me, for she repeated them over as if wondering what they meant. Then trying to recall the way I had spoken when a boy, which I have never quite forgotten, I repeated my question. She understood, and answered in her sweet babyish accents, 'Fader come back soon, he told little Frida. He had lost the road, and he said I'se to wait here till he came back, and laid his violin and his bag 'side me, and told me to keep this little book, which he has taught me to read, 'cos he says mother loved it so. Then he went away; and I've waited—oh so long, and he's never come back, and I'se cold, so cold, and hungry, and I want my own fader. O kind man, take Frida to him. And he's ill, so ill too! Last night I heard the people in the place we slept in say he'd never live to go through the Forest; but he would go, 'cos he wanted to take me 'cross the sea.' Then the pretty little creature began to cry bitterly, and beg me again to take her to father. I told her I would wait a bit with her, and see if he came. For more than an hour I sat there beside her, trying to warm and comfort her; for I tell you, Elsie, she seemed to creep into my heart, and reminded me of our little one, who would have been about her size had she been alive, though she was but three years old when she died.
"Well, time went on, and the night grew darker, and I knew how troubled you would be, and yet I knew not what to do. I left the child for a bit, and looked here and there in the Forest; but all was dark, and though I called long and loud no answer came. So I returned, took the child in my arms (for she is but a light weight), and with my tools thrown over my shoulder, and the violin and bag in my hand, I made my way home. The child cried awhile, saying she must wait for fader, then fell sound asleep in my arms. Now, wife, would it not be well to undress her, and give her some food ere she sleeps again, for she must be hungry?"
THE WOOD-CUTTER'S HUT.
"Jesus, tender Shepherd, hear me; Bless Thy little lamb to-night."
"Indeed you are right, Wilhelm," said his wife. "No doubt the poor little maid must be hungry, only I had not the heart to waken her.—See, Hans, there is some goat's milk in the corner yonder. Get it heated, whilst I cut a bit of this bread, coarse though it be. 'Tis all we have to give her; but such as it is, she is right welcome to it, poor little lamb."
As she spoke she moved quietly to the bed where the child lay asleep. As she woke she uttered the cry, "Fader, dear fader!" then raised herself and looked around. Evidently the story of the day flashed upon her, and she turned eagerly to the wood-cutter, asking if "fader" had come yet.
On being told that he had not, she said no more, but her eyes filled with tears. She took the bread and milk without resistance, though she looked at the black bread as if it were repugnant to her. Then she let herself be undressed by Elsie, directing her to open the bag, and taking from it a nightdress of fine calico, a brush and comb, also a large sponge, a couple of fine towels, a change of underclothing, two pairs of stockings, and one black dress, finer than the one she wore.
Ere the child consented to go to bed she opened the little "brown book," which was a German Bible, and read aloud, slowly but distinctly, the last verse of the Fourth Psalm: "Ich liege und schlafe ganz mit Frieden; denn allein Du, Herr, hilfst mir, dass ich sicher wohne" ("I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety"). Then she knelt down, and prayed in simple words her evening prayer, asking God to let father come home, and to bless the kind people who had given her a shelter, for Christ's sake.
Elsie and Wilhelm looked at each other with amazement. Alas! there was no fear of God in that house. Elsie might cross herself when she spoke of spirits, but that was only as a superstitious sign that she had been told frightened them away.
Of Christ and His power to protect and save they knew nothing. Roman Catholics by profession, they yet never darkened a church door, save perhaps when they took a child to be baptized; but they only thought of that ordinance as a protection to their child from the evil one. God's holy Word was to them a sealed book. True, all the wood-cutters were not like them, but still a spirit of ignorance and indifference as regarded religion reigned amongst them; and if now and then a priest sought their dwelling, his words (such as they were) fell on dull ears. Things seen and temporal engrossed all their thoughts. The daily work, the daily bread, and the nightly sleep—these filled their hearts and excluded God. So it was not to be wondered at that little Frida's reading and prayer were an astonishment to them.
"What think you of that, Elsie?" said Wilhelm. "The child spoke as if she were addressing some one in the room."
"Ay, ay," answered his wife. "It was gruesome to hear her. She made me look up to see if there was really any one there; and she wasn't speaking to our Lady either. Art sure she is a child of earth at all, Wilhelm?"
"Ay, she's that; and the question is, wife, What shall we do with her? Suppose the father never turns up, shall we keep her, or give her over to them that have the charge of wanderers and such like?"
Here Hans sprang forward. "Nay, father, nay! Do not send her away. She is so pretty, and looks like the picture of an angel. I saw one in the church where little Annchen was baptized. Oh, keep her, father!—Mutter, do not send the little maid back into the forest!"
But Elsie's woman's heart had no thought of so doing. "No, no, my lad," she said. "Never fear; we'll keep the child till some one comes to take her away that has a right to her. Who knows but mayhap she'll bring a blessing on our house; for often I think we don't remember the Virgin and the saints as we ought. My mother did, I know;" and as she spoke great tears rolled down her cheeks.
The child's prayer had touched a chord of memory, and recalled the days of her childhood, when she had lived with parents who at least reverenced the Lord, though they had not been taught to worship Him aright.
Wilhelm sat for a few minutes lost in thought. He was pondering the question whether, supposing the child was left on his hands, he could support her by doing extra work. It would be difficult, he knew; but if Elsie were willing he'd try, for his kind heart recoiled from sending the little child who clung to him so confidingly adrift amongst strangers. No, he would not do so.
After a while he turned to his wife, who had gone to the cradle where lay their six-weeks-old baby, and was rocking it, as the child had cried out in her sleep.
"Elsie," he said, "I'll set off at break of day, and go amongst my mates, and find out if they have seen or heard aught of the missing gentleman.—Come, Hans," he said suddenly; "'tis time you were asleep."
A few minutes later and Hans had tumbled into his low bed, and lay for a short time thinking about Frida, and wondering who she had been speaking to when she knelt down; but in the midst of his wondering he fell asleep.
Wilhelm, wearied with his day's work, was not long in following his son's example, and was soon sound asleep; but no word of prayer rose from his heart and lips to the loving Father in heaven, who had guarded and kept him from the dangers of the day.
Elsie was in no hurry to go to bed; her heart was full of many thoughts. The child's prayer and the words out of the little book had strangely moved her, and she was asking herself if there were indeed a God (as in her childhood she had been taught to believe), what had she ever done to please Him.
Conscience said low, Nothing; but she tried to drown the thought, and busied herself in cleaning the few dishes and putting the little room to rights, then sat down for a few minutes beside the stove to think.
Where could the father of the child be, she asked herself, and what would be his feelings on returning to the place where he had left her when he found she was no longer there? Could he have lost his way in the great Forest? That was by no means unlikely; she had often heard of such a thing as that happening. Then she wondered if there were any clue to the child's friends or the place she was going to in the bag; and rising, she took it up and opened it.
Besides the articles we have already enumerated, she found a case full of needles, some reels of cotton, a small book of German hymns, and a double locket with chain attached to it. This Elsie succeeded in opening, and on the one side was the picture of a singularly beautiful, dark-eyed girl, on the verge of womanhood; and on the other a blue-eyed, fair-haired young man, a few years older than the lady. Under the pictures were engraved the words "Hilda" and "Friedrich." Elsie doubted not that these were the likenesses of Frida's father and mother, for the child bore a strong resemblance to both. She had the dark eyes of her mother and the golden hair of her father, if such was the relationship she bore to him.
These pictures were the only clue to the child's parentage. No doubt she wore a necklace quite unlike anything that Elsie had ever seen before; but then, except in the shop windows, she had seen so few ornaments in her life that she knew not whether it was a common one or not.
She put the locket carefully back in its place, shut the bag, and slipped across the room to take another glance at the sleeping child. Very beautiful she looked as she lay, the fair, golden hair curling over her head and falling round her neck. Her lips were slightly parted, and, as if conscious of Elsie's approach, she muttered the word "fader." Elsie patted her, and turned once more to the little cradle where lay her infant. The child was awake and crying, and the mother stooped and took her up, and sat down with her in her arms. A look of anxiety and sadness crossed the mother's face when she observed that although she flashed the little lamp in the baby's face her eyes never turned to the light.
For some time the terrible fear had been rising in her head that her little Anna was blind. She had mentioned this to her husband, but he had laughed at her, and said babies of that age never took much notice of anything; but that was three weeks ago, and still, though the eyes looked bright, and the child was intelligent, the eyes never followed the light, nor looked up into the mother's face.
The fear was now becoming certainty. Oh, if only she could make sure, see some doctors, and find out if nothing could be done for her darling!
A blind child! How could they support her, how provide for the wants of one who could never help herself?
Poor mother! her heart sank within her, for she knew nothing of the One who has said, "Cast all your cares upon me, for I care for you."
Now as she gazed at the child she became more than ever convinced that that strange trial had fallen upon her. And to add to this new difficulty, how could she undertake the charge and keeping of this stranger so wonderfully brought to their door?
Elsie, although no Christian, had a true, loving woman's heart beating within her, and putting from her the very idea of sending away the lost child, she said to herself, "The little that a child like that will take will not add much to the day's expense; and even if it did, Elsie Hoerstel is not the woman to cast out the forlorn child." Oh, the pity of it that she did not know the words of Him who said, "Inasmuch as ye did it to one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me;" and again, "Whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me." But these words had never yet reached her ears, and as yet it was only the instincts of a true God-created heart that led her to compassionate and care for the child lost in the forest.
Taking the babe in her arms, she slipped into bed and soon fell asleep.
"And though we sorrow for the dead, Let not our grief be loud, That we may hear Thy loving voice Within the light-lined cloud."
Early in the morning, ere wife or children were awake, and long before the October sun had arisen, Wilhelm Hoerstel arose, and putting a hunch of black bread and goat-milk cheese into his pocket, he shouldered his axe and saw and went out into the Forest.
The dawn was beginning to break, and there was light enough for the practised eye of the wood-cutter to distinguish the path which he wished to take through the Forest.
Great stillness reigned around; even the twittering of the birds had hardly begun—they were for the most part awaiting the rising of the sun, though here and there an early bird might be heard chirping as it flew off, no doubt in search of food. Even the frogs in the Forest ponds had not yet resumed their croaking, and only the bubbling of a brooklet or the falling of a tiny cascade from the rocks (which abound in some parts of the Forest) was heard. The very silence which pervaded, calmed, and to a Christian mind would have raised the thoughts Godward. But it had no such influence on the heart, the kindly heart, of the young wood-cutter as he walked on, bent only on reaching the small hamlet or "Dorf" where stood the hut of the man with whom he sought to hold counsel as to how a search could be instituted in the Forest for the father of little Frida.
As he reached the door, and just as the sun was rising above the hill-tops, and throwing here and there its golden beams through the autumn-tinted trees, he saw not one but several wood-cutters and charcoal-burners going into the house of his friend Johann Schmidt. Somewhat wondering he hastened his steps, and entered along with them, putting as he did so the question, "Was gibt's?" (What is the matter?) His friend, who came forward to greet him, answered the question by saying, "Come and help us, Wilhelm; a strange thing has happened here during the night.
"Soon after Gretchen and I had fallen asleep, we were awakened by the noise of some heavy weight falling at the door; and on going to see what it was, there, to our amazement, lay a man, evidently in a faint. We got him into our hut, and after a while he became conscious, looked around him, and said 'Frida!' Gretchen tried to find out who it was he wished, but could only make out it was a child whom he had left in the Forest; but whether he was still delirious none could tell. He pressed his hand on his heart and said he was very ill, and again muttering the word, 'Frida, Armseliger Frida,' he again fainted away.
"We did what we could for him, and he rallied a little; and then an hour ago, Gretchen stooping over him heard him say, 'Herr Jesu. Ob ich schon wandelte im finstern Thal fuerchete ich kein Unglueck: denn Du bist bei mir' ('Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me'); and giving one deep breath his spirit fled."
As their mate said these words, exclamations of sorrow were heard around. "Ach, poor man!" said one. "Thinkest thou the child he spoke of can be in the Forest?" "And the words he said about fearing no evil, what did they mean?" said another. "Well," said one who looked like a chief man amongst them, "I believe he was ein Ketzer, and if that be so we had better send to Dringenstadt, where there is a ketzer Pfarrer [heretic pastor], and get his advice. I heard the other day that a new one had come whom they called Herr Langen."
Then as a momentary pause came, Wilhelm Hoerstel stepped forward and told the tale of the child he had found in the Forest the night before, who called herself Frida. The men listened with amazement, but with one breath they all declared she must be the child of whom the dead man had spoken.
"Ay," said Wilhelm, "and I am sure she is the child of a Ketzer [heretic]; for what think ye a child like that did ere she went to bed? She prayed, and my wife says never a word said she to the Virgin, but spoke just straight to God."
"Ach, poor Maedchen!" said another of the men; "does she think the Lord would listen to the prayer of a child like her? The blessed Virgin have pity on her;" and as he spoke he crossed himself.
"If these things be so," said the chief man, by name Jacob Heine, "then it is plain one of us must go off to Dringenstadt, see the Pfarrer, and settle about the funeral."
His proposal was at once agreed to, and as he was overseer of the wood-cutters, and could not leave his work, Johann Schmidt, in whose hut the man had died, was chosen as the best man to go; whilst Wilhelm should return to his home, and then take the child to see her dead father.
"Yes, bring the Maedchen" (little maid), said all, "and let us see her also; seems as if she belongs to us all, found in the Forest as she was."
There was no time to be lost, for the sun was already well up, and the men should have been at work long ago.
So they dispersed, some going to their work deeper in the Forest, Wilhelm retracing his way home, and Johann taking the path which led through the wood to the little town of Dringenstadt.
As Wilhelm approached his door, the little Frida darted to him, saying, "Have you found my fader? Oh, take me to him! Frida must go to her fader." Tears rose to the wood-cutter's eyes, as lifting the child in his arms he entered the hut, and leaving Frida there with Hans, he beckoned his wife to speak to him outside; and there he told her the story of the man who had died in Johann's cottage.
"Ah, then," said Elsie, "the little Frida is indeed an orphan, poor lambie. How shall we tell her, Wilhelm? Her little heart will break. Ever since she woke she has prattled on about him; ay" (and the woman's voice lowered as she spoke), "and of a Father who she says lives in heaven and cares both for her earthly father and herself. And, Wilhelm, she's been reading aloud to Hans and me about the Virgin's Son of whom my mother used to speak."
"Well, never mind about all that, wife, but let us tell the child; for I and my mates think she should be taken to see the body, and so make sure that the man was really her father."
* * * * *
"Fader dead!" said the child, as she sat on Wilhelm's knee and heard the sad story. "Dead! Shall Frida never see him again, nor walk with him, nor talk with him? Oh! dear, dear fader, why did you die and leave Frida all alone? I want you, I want you!" and the child burst into a flood of tears.
They let her cry on, those kind-hearted people—nay, they wept with her; but after some minutes had passed, Wilhelm raised her head, and asked her if she would not like to see her father once more, though he could not speak to her now.
"Yes, oh yes! take me to see him!" she exclaimed. "Oh, take me!" Then looking eagerly up she said, "Perhaps Jesus can make him live again, like he did Lazarus, you know. Can't he?" But alas! of the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead these two people knew nothing; and when they asked her what she meant, and she said her father had read to her about it out of her little brown book, they only shook their heads, and Wilhelm said, "I feared there was something wrong about that little book. How could any one be raised from the dead?"
Frida's passionate exclamations of love and grief when she saw the dead body of the man who lay in Johann Schmidt's hut removed all doubt from the minds of those who heard her as to the relationship between them; and the manner in which the child turned from a crucifix which Gretchen brought forward to her, thinking it would comfort her, convinced them more firmly that the poor man had indeed been a heretic.
No! father never prayed to that, nor would he let her do so, she said—just to Jesus, dear Jesus in heaven; and though several of those who heard her words crossed themselves as she spoke, and prayed the Virgin to forgive, all were much taken with and deeply sorry for the orphan child; and when Wilhelm raised her in his arms to take her back to his hut and to the care of Elsie, more than one of the inhabitants of the Dorf brought some little gift from their small store to be taken with him to help in the maintenance of the little one so strangely brought among them. Ere they left the Dorf, Johann Schmidt had returned from executing his message to Dringenstadt. He had seen the Pfarrer, and he had promised to come along presently and arrange about the funeral.
"The Lord thy Shepherd is— Dread not nor be dismayed— To lead thee on through stormy paths, By ways His hand hath made."
On the morning of the day that we have written of, the young Protestant pastor of Dringenstadt was seated in a room of the small house which went by the name of "Das Pfarrhaus."
He was meditating more than studying just then. He felt his work there an uphill one. Almost all the people in that little town were Roman Catholics. His own flock was a little one indeed, and only that morning he had received a letter telling him that it had been settled that no regular ministry would be continued there, as funds were not forthcoming, and the need in one sense seemed small. He had come there only a few months before, knowing well that he might only be allowed to remain a short time; but now that the order for his removal elsewhere had come, he felt discouraged and sad. Was it right, he was asking himself, to withdraw the true gospel light from the people, and to leave the few, no doubt very few, who loved it to themselves? Karl Langen was a true Christian, longing to lead souls to Jesus, and was much perplexed by the order he had received. Suddenly a knock at the door roused him, and the woman who took charge of his house on entering told him that a man from the Forest wished to speak to him. Telling her to send him in at once, he awaited his entry.
Johann Schmidt was shown into the room, and told his sorrowful tale in a quiet, manly way.
The pastor was much moved, and repeated with amazement the words, "A child lost in the Black Forest, and the father dead, you say? Certainly I will come and see. But why, my friend, should you think the man was an Evangelisch?" Then Johann told of the words he had repeated, of the child's prayer and her little brown book.
Suddenly a light seemed to dawn on the mind of the young pastor. "Oh!" he said, "I believe you are right. I think I have seen both the father and the child. Last Sunday there came into our church a gentleman and a lovely little girl, just such a one as you describe the child you speak of to be. I tried to speak to them after worship, but ere I could do so they had gone. And no one could tell me who they were or whither they had gone. I will now see the Buergermeister about the funeral, and make arrangements regarding it. I think through some friends of mine I can get money sufficient to pay all expenses."
Johann thanked him warmly, and hastened back to tell what had been agreed on, and then got off to his work.
Late in the afternoon Pastor Langen took his way to the little hut in the Black Forest.
The Forest by the road he took was not well known to him, and the solemn quiet which pervaded it struck him much and raised his thoughts to God. It was as if he had entered the sanctuary and heard the voice of the Lord speaking to him. It was, as a poet has expressed it, as if
"Solemn and silent everywhere, The trees with folded hands stood there, Kneeling at their evening prayer."
Only the slight murmuring of the breeze amongst the leaves, or the flutter of a bird's wing as it flew from branch to branch, broke the silence. All around him there was
"A slumberous sound, a sound that brings The feeling of a dream, As when a bell no longer swings, Faint the hollow echo rings O'er meadow, lake, and stream."
As he walked, he thought much of the child found in the Forest, and he wondered how he could help her or find out to whom she belonged. Oh, if only, he said to himself, he had been able to speak to the father the day he had seen him, and learned something of his history! Johann had told him that if no clue could be found to the child's relations, Wilhelm Hoerstel had determined to bring her up; but Johann had added, "We will not, poor though we be, let the whole expense of her upbringing fall on the Hoerstels. No; we will go share for share, and she shall be called the child of the wood-cutters."
As he thought of these words, the young pastor prayed for the kind, large-hearted men, asking that the knowledge of the loving Christ might shine into their hearts and bring spiritual light into the darkness which surrounded them. The afternoon had merged into evening ere he entered the wood-cutters' Dorf. As he neared Johann's hut, Gretchen came to the door, and he greeted her with the words, "The Lord be with you, and bless you for your kindness to the poor man in the time of his need."
"Come in, sir," she said, "and see the corpse. Oh, but he's been a fine-looking man, and he so young too. It was a sight to see his bit child crying beside him and begging him to say one word to her—just one word. Then she folded her hands, and looking up said, 'O kind Jesus, who made Lazarus come to life, make dear fader live again.' Oh, 'twas pitiful to see her! Who think you, sir, was the man she spoke of called Lazarus? When I asked her she said it was all written in her little brown book, which she would bring along and read to me some day, bless the little creature."
The pastor said some words about the story being told by the Lord Jesus, and recorded in the Holy Scriptures. He did not offer her a Testament, as he knew if the priest heard (as it was likely he would) of his having been there, he would ask if they had been given a Bible, and so trouble would follow. But he rejoiced that the little child had it in her heart to read the words of life to the kind woman, and he breathed a prayer that her little brown Bible might prove a blessing to those poor wood-cutters.
Pastor Langen at once recognized the features of the dead man as those of the stranger whom he had seen with the lovely child in the little church. He then made arrangements for the funeral the next day, and departed.
* * * * *
On the morrow a number of wood-cutters met at the house of Johann Schmidt to attend the funeral of the stranger gentleman. Wilhelm Hoerstel, and his wife, Hans, and little Frida, were there also. The child was crying softly, as if she realized that even the corpse of her father was to be taken from her.
Presently the young pastor entered, and the moment Frida saw him she started forward, saying in her child language, "O sir, I've seen you before, when fader and I heard you preach some days ago." All this was said in the pure German language, which the people hardly followed at all, but which was the same as the pastor himself spoke. He at once recognized the child, and sought to obtain from her some information regarding her father. She only said, as she had already done, that he was going to England to see some friends of her mother's. When questioned as to their name, she could not tell. All that she knew was that they were relations of her mother's. Yes, her father loved his Bible, and had given her such a nice little brown one which had belonged to her mother.
Could she speak any English, the pastor asked.
"Yes, I can," said Frida. "Mother taught me a number of words, and I can say 'Good-morning,' and 'How are you to-day?' Also mother taught me to say the Lord's Prayer in English. But I do not know much English, for father and mother always spoke German to each other."
No more could be got from the child then, and the simple service was gone on with; and when the small procession set off for Dringenstadt, the kindly men took it by turns to carry the little maiden in their arms, as the walk through the forest was a long one for a child.
In the churchyard of the quiet little German town they laid the mortal remains of Friedrich Heinz, to await the resurrection morning.
Tears rose to the eyes of many onlookers as Frida threw herself, sobbing, on the grave of her father. Wilhelm and Elsie strove in vain to raise her, but when Pastor Langen drew near and whispered the words, "Look up, Frida; thy father is not here, he is with Jesus," a smile of joy played on the child's face, and rising she dried her tears, and putting her hand into that of Elsie she prepared to leave the "God's acre," and the little party set off for their home in the Black Forest.
Darkness had fallen on all around ere they reached the Dorf, and strange figures that the trees and bushes assumed appeared to the superstitious mind of Elsie and some of the others as the embodiment of evil spirits, and they wished themselves safe under the shelter of their little huts.
That night the little stranger child mingled her tears with her prayers, and to Elsie's amazement she heard her ask her Father in heaven to take greater care of her now than ever, because she had no longer a father on earth to do it. Little did the kneeling child imagine that that simple prayer was used by the Holy Spirit to touch the heart of the wood-cutter's wife.
And from the lips of Elsie ere she fell asleep that night arose a cry to the Father in heaven for help. True, it was but
"As an infant crying in the night, An infant crying for the light, And with no language but a cry."
But still there was a felt need, and a recognition that there was One who could meet and satisfy it.
At all events Elsie Hoerstel clasped her blind babe to her heart that night, and fell asleep with a feeling of rest and peace to which she had long been a stranger.
Ah! God had a purpose for the little child and her brown Bible in that little hut of which she as yet had no conception. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings He still perfects praise.
THE WOODMEN'S PET.
"Lord, make me like the gentle dew, That other hearts may prove, E'en through Thy feeblest messenger, Thy ministry of love."
Pastor Langen, ere leaving Dringenstadt, visited the hut in the Black Forest where Frida had found a home.
His congregation, with two or three exceptions, was a poor one, and his own means were small; yet he had contrived to collect a small sum for Frida's maintenance, which he had put into the hands of the Buergermeister, who undertook to pay the interest of it quarterly to the Hoerstels on behalf of the child. True, the sum was small, but it was sufficient to be a help; and a kind lady of the congregation, Fraeulein Drechsler, said she would supply her from time to time with dress, and when she could have her now and then with herself, instruct her in the Protestant faith and the elements of education. Frida could already read, and had begun to write, taught by her father. Every effort was being made to discover if the child had any relations alive. The Buergermeister had put advertisements in many papers, German and English, but as yet no answer had come, and many of the wood-cutters still held the opinion that the child was the offspring of some woodland spirit. But in spite of any such belief, Frida had a warm welcome in every hut in the Dorf, and a kindly word from every man and woman in it.
The "woodland child" they called her, and as such cherished and protected her. Many a "bite and sup" she got from them. Many a warm pair of stockings, or a knitted petticoat done by skilful hands, did the inmates of the Dorf present to her. They did what they could, these poor people, for the orphan child, just out of the fullness of their kind hearts, little thinking of the blessing that through her was to descend on them. The day of Pastor Langen's visit to the hut, some time after her father's funeral, Frida was playing beside the door, and on seeing him coming up the path she rose from the spot where she was sitting and ran eagerly to meet him.
But though unseen by her, he had been standing near for some time spell-bound by the music which, child though she was, she was bringing out of her father's violin, in the playing of which she was amusing herself.
From a very early age her father, himself a skilled violinist, had taught her to handle the bow, and had early discovered the wonderful talent for music which she possessed.
The day of which we write was the first one since her father's death that Frida had played on the violin, so neither Wilhelm nor Elsie was aware that she could do so at all. The pastor was approaching the cottage when the sound of music reached his ears, and having a good knowledge of that art himself, he stood still to listen. A few minutes convinced him that though the playing was that of a child, still the performer had the true soul of music, and only needed full instruction to develop into a musician of no ordinary talent. As he drew nearer his surprise was great to see that the player was none other than the beautiful child found in the Black Forest. Attracted by the sound of steps, Frida had turned round, and seeing her friend had, as we have written, bounded off to meet him. Hearing that Elsie had taken her babe and gone a message to the Dorf, he seated himself on a knoll with the child and began to talk to her.
"How old are you?" he asked her.
"Seven years and more," she replied; "because I remember my birthday was only a little while before Muetterchen (I always called her that) died, and that that day she took the locket she used to wear off her neck and gave it to me, telling me always to keep it."
"And have you that locket still?" queried the pastor.
"Yes; Elsie has it carefully put away. There is a picture of Muetterchen on the one side, and of my father on the other."
"And did your mother ever speak to you of your relations either in Germany or England?"
"Yes, she did sometimes. She spoke of grandmamma in England and grandpapa also, and she said they lived in a beautiful house; but she never told me their name, nor where their house was. Father, of course, knew, for he said he was going to take me there, and he used to speak of a brother of his whom he said he dearly loved."
"But tell me," asked the pastor, "where did you live with your parents in Germany?"
"Oh, in a number of different places, but never long at the same place. Father played at concerts just to make money, and we never remained long anywhere—we were always moving about."
"And your parents were Protestants?"
"I don't know what that means," said the child. "But they were often called 'Ketzers' by the people where he lodged. And they would not pray to the Virgin Mary, as many did, but taught me to pray to God in the name of Jesus Christ. And Muetterchen gave me a little 'brown Bible' for my very own, which she said her mother had given to her. Oh, I must show it to you, sir!" and, darting off, the child ran into the house, returning with the treasured book in her hand. The pastor examined it and read the inscription written on the fly-leaf—"To my dear Hilda, from her loving mother, on her eighteenth birthday." That was all, but he felt sure from the many underlined passages that the book had been well studied. He found that Frida could read quite easily, and that she had been instructed in Scripture truth.
Ere he bade her farewell he asked her to promise him to read often from her little Bible to Wilhelm, Elsie, and Hans. "For who knows, little Frida, that the Lord may not have chosen you to be a child missionary to the wood-cutters, and to read to them out of His holy Word."
Frida thought over these words, though she hardly took in their full meaning; but she loved her Bible, and wished that the people who were so kind to her loved it also.
On his way home the pastor met Elsie with her babe in her arms, and told her of his farewell visit to Frida, and of his delight with the child's musical talent, and advised her to encourage her as much as possible to play on the violin.
Elsie's face brightened as he spoke, for she and her husband, like many of the German peasants, dearly loved music.
"O sir," she said, "have you heard her sing? It is just beautiful and wonderful to hear her; she beats the very birds themselves."
Thanking her once more for her care of the orphan child, and commending her to God, the pastor went on his way, musing much on the future of the gifted child, and wondering what could be done as regarded her education.
In the meantime Elsie went home, and entrusting her babe to the care of Frida, who loved the little helpless infant, she made ready for her husband's return from his work. Hans had gone that day to help his father in the wood, which he loved much to do, so Elsie and Frida were alone.
"Mutter," said the child (for she had adopted Hans's way of addressing Elsie), "the pastor was here to-day, and he played to me—oh so beautifully—on my violin, it reminded me of father, and made me cry. O Mutter, I wish some one could teach me to play on it as father did. You see I was just beginning to learn a little how to do it, and I do love it so;" and as she spoke, the child joined her hands together and looked pleadingly at Elsie.
"Ach, poor child," replied Elsie, "how canst thou be taught here?"
And that night when Elsie repeated to Wilhelm Frida's desire for lessons on the violin, the worthy couple grieved that they could do nothing to gratify her wish.
Day after day and week after week passed, and still no answer came to any of the advertisements about the child; and save for her own sake none of the dwellers in the wood wished it otherwise, for the "woodland child," as they called her, had won her way into every heart.
ELSIE AND THE BROWN BIBLE.
"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path."
Frida, as time went on, was growing hardy and strong in the bracing Forest air. Every kindness was lavished on her, and the child-spirit had asserted itself, and though often tears would fill her eyes as something or other reminded her vividly of the past, yet her merry laughter was often heard as she played with Hans in the woods. Yet through all her glee there was at times a seriousness of mind remarkable in one so young, also a power of observation as regarded others not often noticeable in one of her years. She had become warmly attached to the kind people amongst whom her lot was cast, and especially so to Elsie. Several times she had observed her looking anxiously at the babe in her arms, taking her to the light and endeavouring to attract her attention to the plaything which she held before her. Then when the babe, now some months old, showed no signs of observing it, Frida would see a great tear roll down Elsie's cheek, and once she heard her mutter the words, "Blind! my baby's blind!" Was it possible? Frida asked herself; for the child's eyes looked bright, and she felt sure she knew her, and had often stretched out her little arms to be taken up by her. "No," she repeated again, "she cannot be blind!" Poor little Frida knew not that it was her voice that the baby recognized. Often she had sung her to sleep when Elsie had left her in her charge. Already father and mother had noted with joy the power that music had over their blind babe. One day Frida summoned courage to say, "Mutter, dear Mutter, why are you sad when you look at little Anna? I often notice you cry when you do so."
At that question the full heart of the mother overflowed. "O Frida, little Frida, the babe is blind! She will never see the light of day nor the face of her father and mother. Wilhelm knows it now: we took her to Dringenstadt last week, and the doctor examined her eyes and told us she ist blind geboren [born blind]. O my poor babe, my poor babe!"
Frida slipped her hand into that of the poor mother, and said gently, "O Mutter, Jesus can make the babe to see if we ask Him. He made so many blind people to see when He was on earth, and He can do so still. Let me read to you about it in my little brown book;" and the child brought her Bible and read of Jesus healing the two blind men, and also of the one in John ix. who said, "Whereas I was blind, now I see."
Elsie listened eagerly, and said, "And it was Jesus the Virgin's Son who did that, do you say? Read me more about Him." And the child read on, how with one touch Jesus opened the eyes of the blind. She read also how they brought the young children to Jesus, and He took them into His arms and blessed them, and said to His disciples, "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of heaven."
"Oh," said Elsie, "if only that Jesus were here now, I'd walk miles and miles to take my Anna to Him; but, alas! He is not here now."
Frida was a young child, and hardly knew how to answer the troubled mother; but her faith was a simple one, so she answered, "No, Jesus is not here now, but He is in heaven, and He answers us when we pray to Him. Father once read to me the words in Matthew's Gospel—see, here they are—'Ask, and it shall be given you.' Shall we ask Him now?" and kneeling down she prayed in child language, "O Lord Jesus, who dost hear and answer prayer, make little Anna to see as Thou didst the blind men when Thou wert on earth, and oh, comfort poor Elsie!"
As she rose from her knees, Elsie threw her arms round her, saying, "O Frida, I do believe the God my mother believed in hath sent thee here to be a blessing to us!"
Often after that day Frida would read out of her brown Bible to Elsie about Jesus, His life and His atoning death. And sometimes in the evening, when Hans would sit cutting out various kinds of toys, for which he had a great turn, and could easily dispose of them in the shops at Dringenstadt, she would read to him also; and he loved to hear the Old Testament stories of Moses and Jacob, Joseph, and Daniel in the lion's den; also of David, the sweet psalmist of Israel, who had once been a shepherd boy. They were all new to poor Hans, and from them he learned something of the love God has to His children; but it was ever of Jesus that Elsie loved to hear, and again and again she got the child to read to her the words, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." And erelong it was evident, though she would scarcely have acknowledged it, that she was seeking not only the rest but the "Rest-Giver." And we know that He who gave the invitation has pledged His word that whosoever cometh to Him He will in no wise cast out.
All this while Wilhelm seemed to take no notice of the Bible readings. Once or twice, when he had returned from his work, he had found Frida reading to his wife and boy, and he had lingered for a minute or two at the door to catch some of the words; but he made no remark, and interrupted the reading by asking if supper were ready. But often later in the evening he would ask the child to bring out her violin and play to him, or to sing one of his favourite songs, after which she would sing a hymn of praise; but as yet it was the sweetness of the singer's voice and not the beauty of the words that he loved to listen to. But notwithstanding, by the power of the Holy Ghost, the Bible was doing its work—slowly, it may be, but surely; so true is it that God's word shall not return to Him void.
"Sing them over again to me, Wonderful words of love."
Three years had passed. Summer had come round again. Fresh green leaves quivered on the trees of the Forest, though the pines still wore their dark clothing. The song of the birds was heard, and the little brooks murmured along their course with a joyful tinkling sound.
In the Forest it was cool even at noontide, but in Dringenstadt the heat was oppressive, and in spite of the sun-blinds the glare of light even indoors was excessive.
In a pleasant room, into which the sun only shone through a thick canopy of green leaves, sat a lady with an open book in her hand. It was an English one, and the dictionary by her side showed it was not in a language she was altogether familiar with. The book evidently recalled memories of the past. Every now and then she paused in her reading, and the look which came into her eyes told that her thoughts had wandered from the present surroundings to other places, and it might be other days.
Sitting beside her, engaged in doing a sum of arithmetic, was a beautiful child of some ten years old, neatly though plainly dressed. The lady's eyes rested on her from time to time, as if something in her appearance, as well as the book she was reading, recalled other days and scenes.
"Frida," she said, for the child was none other than our little friend found in the Forest, "have you no recollections of ever hearing your mother speak of the home of her childhood, or of her companions there?"
"No, dear Miss Drechsler, I do not remember her ever speaking of any companions; but she told me about her mother and father, and that they lived in a beautiful house in England, somewhere in the country; and whenever she spoke of her mother she used to cry, and then she would kiss me, and wish she could show me to her, for she knew she would love me, and I am sure it was to her that my father was taking me when he died. See, here is my little brown Bible which her mother gave to her and she gave to me."
Miss Drechsler took the Bible in her hand, and examined the writing, and noted the name "Hilda;" but neither of them seemed to recall any special person to her memory.
"Strange," she said to herself; "and yet that child's face reminds me vividly of some one whom I saw when I was in England some years ago, when living as governess to the Hon. Evelyn Warden, and I always connect it with some fine music which I heard at that time."
Then changing the subject, she said abruptly, "Frida dear, bring your violin and let me hear how far you are prepared for your master to-morrow."
Miss Drechsler, true to her promise to the German pastor, had kept a look-out on the child known as "the wood-cutters' pet," who lived in the little hut in the Black Forest. From the time Pastor Langen had left, she had her often living with herself for days at a time at Dringenstadt, and was conducting her education; but as she often had to leave that town for months, Frida still had her home great part of the year with the Hoerstels in the Forest. At the time we write of, Miss Drechsler had returned to her little German home, and Frida, who was once more living with her, was getting, at her expense, lessons in violin-playing. She bid fair to become an expert in the art which she dearly loved. She was much missed by the kind people in the Forest amongst whom she had lived so long. Just as, at Miss Drechsler's request, she had produced her violin and begun to play on it, a servant opened the door and said that a man from the Forest was desirous of seeing Fraeulein Heinz. The girl at once put down her instrument and ran to the door, where she found her friend Wilhelm awaiting her.
"Ah, Frida, canst come back with me to the Forest? There is sorrow there. In one house Johann Schmidt lies nigh to death, caused by an accident when felling a tree. He suffers much, and Gretchen is in sore trouble. And the Volkmans have lost their little boy. You remember him, Frida; he and our Hans used to play together. And our little Anna seems pining away, and Elsie and all of them are crying out for you to come back and comfort them with the words of your little book. Johann said this morning, when his wife proposed sending for the priest, 'No, Gretchen, no. I want no priest; but oh, I wish little Frida were here to read to me from her brown book about Jesus Christ our great High Priest, who takes away our sins, and is always praying for us.'"
"Oh, I remember," interrupted Frida. "I read to him once about Jesus ever living 'to make intercession for us.' Yes, Wilhelm, I'll come with you. I know Miss Drechsler will say I should go, for she often tells me I really belong to the kind people in the Forest." And so saying, she ran off to tell her story to her friend.
Miss Drechsler at once assented to her return to the Forest to give what help she could to the people there, adding that she herself would come up soon to visit them, and bring them any comforts necessary for them such as could not be easily got by them. Ere they parted she and Frida knelt together in prayer, and Miss Drechsler asked that God would use the child as His messenger to the poor, sorrowing, suffering ones in the Forest; after which she took Frida's Bible and put marks in at the different passages which she thought would be suitable to the different cases of the people that Wilhelm had spoken of.
It was late in the afternoon ere Wilhelm and Frida reached the hut of Johann Schmidt, where he left the child for a while, whilst he went on to the Volkmans to tell them of Frida's return, and that she hoped to see them the next day. Gretchen met the girl with a cry of delight.
"Ach! there she comes, our own little Fraeulein. What a pleasure it is to see thee again, our woodland pet! And see, here is my Johann laid up in bed, nearly killed by the falling of a tree."
The sick man raised himself as he heard the child's voice saying as she entered, in reply to Gretchen's words, "Oh, I am sorry, so sorry! Why did you not tell me sooner?" And in another moment she was sitting beside Johann, speaking kind, comforting words to him. He stroked her hair fondly, and answered her questions as well as he could; but there was a far-away look in his eyes as if his thoughts were in some region distant from the one he was living in now. After a few minutes he asked eagerly,—
"Have you the little brown book with you now?"
"Yes, I have," was the reply. "Shall I read to you now, Johann? for Wilhelm is to come for me soon."
"Yes, read, read," he said; "for I am weary, so weary."
Frida turned quickly to the eleventh chapter of Matthew, and read distinctly in the German, which he could understand, and which she could now speak also, the words, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
He stopped her there. "Read that again," he said. She complied, and then he turned to her, saying, "And Jesus, the Son of God, said that? Will He give it to me, thinkest thou?"
"Yes," she said, "He will; for He has promised to do it, and He never breaks His word."
"Well, if that be so, kneel down, pretty one, and ask Him to give it me, for I need it sorely."
Frida knelt, and in a few simple words besought the Saviour to give His rest and peace to the suffering man.
"Thanks, little Frida," he said as she rose. "I believe that prayer will be answered." And shutting his eyes he fell quietly asleep, and Frida slipped out of the room and joined Wilhelm in the Forest.
"Is little Anna so very ill?" she queried as they walked.
"I fear she is," was the answer the father gave, with tears in his eyes. "The mother thinks so also; though the child, bless her, is so good and patient we hardly know whether she suffers or not. She just lies still mostly on her bed now, and sings to herself little bits of hymns, or speaks about the land far away, which she says you told her about, and where she says she is going to see Jesus. Then her mother begins to cry; but she also speaks about that bright land. 'Deed it puzzles me to know where they have learned so much about it, unless it be from your little brown book. And the child has often asked where Frida is. 'I want to hear her sing again,' she says."
"O Wilhelm, why did you not come for me when she said that?"
"Well, you see, I had promised the pastor that I would let you visit Miss Drechsler as often as possible, and then you were getting on so nicely with your violin that we felt as if we had no right to call you back to us. But see, here we are, and there is Hans looking out for us."
But Hans, instead of rushing to meet them as he usually did, ran back hastily to his mother, calling out, "Here they come, here they come!"
"Oh, I am glad!" she said.—"Anna, dear Anna, you will hear Frida's voice again."
The mother looked round with a smile, but moved not, for the dying child lay in her arms. A moment longer, and Frida was beside her, her arms round the blind child.
"Annchen, dear Annchen, speak to me," she entreated—"just one word, to say you know me. It is Frida come home, and she will not leave you again, but will tell you stories out of the little brown book."
A look of intelligence crossed the face of the blind child, and she said,—
"Dear Frida, tell Annchen 'bout Jesus, and sing."
Frida, choking back her sobs, opened her Bible and read the story that little Anna loved, of Jesus taking the children in His arms and blessing them; then sang a hymn of the joys of heaven, where He is seen face to face, and where there is "no more pain, neither sorrow nor crying, neither is there any more death," and where His redeemed ones see His face.
The mother, almost blinded with tears, heard her child whisper, "'See His face;' then Annchen will see Him too, won't she, Frida?"
"Yes, Annchen. There your eyes will be open, and you will be blind no more."
As Frida said these words she heard one deep-drawn breath, one cry, "Fader, Mutter, Jesus!" and the little one was gone into that land where the first face she saw was that of her loving Saviour, whom "having not seen she loved," and the beauties of that land which had been afar off burst on her eyes, which were no longer blind.
Poor father! poor mother! look up; your child sees now, and will await your coming to the golden gates.
Heartfelt tears were shed on earth by that death-bed, but there was a song of great rejoicing in heaven over another ransomed soul entering heaven, and also over another sinner entering the kingdom of God on earth, as Wilhelm Hoerstel bent his knee by the bed where his dead child lay, and in broken words asked the Saviour whom that child had gone to see face to face to receive him as a poor sinner, and make him all he ought to be. In after-years he would often say that it was the words little Frida, the woodland child, had read and sung to his blind darling that led him, as they had already led his wife, to the feet of Jesus.
THE VIOLIN-TEACHER AND THE CONCERT.
"There in an arched and lofty room She stands in fair white dress, Where grace and colour and sweet sound Combine and cluster all around, And rarest taste express."
Three years had passed since all that was mortal of the blind child was laid to rest in the quiet God's acre near where the body of Frida's father lay. After the funeral of little Anna, Frida at her own request returned to the Forest with her friends, anxious to help and comfort Elsie, who she knew would sorely miss the blind child, who had been such a comfort and companion to her when both Wilhelm and Hans were busy at work in the woods; but after remaining with them for a few months, she again returned for a part of each year to Dringenstadt, and made rapid progress under Miss Drechsler's tuition with her education, and especially with her music.
The third summer after little Anna's death, Frida was again spending some weeks in the Forest. It was early summer when she returned there. Birds and insects were busy in the Forest, and the wood-cutters were hard at work loading the carts with the piles of wood which the large-eyed, strong, patient-looking oxen conveyed to the town. Loud sounded the crack of the carters' whips as they urged on the slow-paced oxen. Often in those days Frida, accompanied by Elsie (who had now no little child to detain her at home), would take Wilhelm's and Hans's simple dinner with them to carry to them where they worked.
One day Frida left Elsie talking to her husband and boy, and strolled a little way further into the Forest, gathering the flowers that grew at the foot of the trees, and admiring the soft, velvety moss that here and there covered the ground, when suddenly she was startled by the sounds of footsteps quite near her, and looking hastily round, saw to her amazement the figure of the young violinist from whom she had lately taken lessons.
"Fraeulein Heinz," he said, as he caught sight of the fair young girl as she stood, flowers in hand, "I rejoice to meet you, for I came in search of you. Pupils of mine in the town of Baden-Baden, many miles from here, where I often reside, are about to have an amateur concert, and they have asked me to bring any pupil with me whom I may think capable of assisting them. They are English milords, and are anxious to assist local musical talent; and I have thought of you, Fraeulein, as a performer on the violin, and I went to-day to Miss Drechsler to ask her to give you leave to go."
"And what did she say?" asked the child eagerly. "How could I go so far away?" And she stopped suddenly; but the glance she gave at her dress told the young violinist the direction of her thoughts.
"Ah!" he said, "Fraeulein Drechsler will settle all that. She wishes you to go, and says she will herself accompany you and also bring you back to your friends."
"Oh! then," said Frida, "I would like very much to go; but I must ask Wilhelm and Elsie if they can spare me. But, Herr Mueller, do you think I can play well enough?"
The violinist smiled as he thought how little the girl before him realized the musical genius which she possessed, and which already, young as she was, made her a performer of no ordinary skill.
"Ah yes, Fraeulein," he said, "I think you will do. But you know, as the concert is not for a month yet, you can come to Dringenstadt and can have a few more lessons ere then."
"Come with me, then, and let me introduce you to my friends;" and she led him up to the spot where Wilhelm, Elsie, and Hans stood.
They looked surprised, but when they heard her request they could not refuse it. To have their little woodland child play at a concert seemed to them an honour of no small magnitude. Hans in his eagerness pressed to her side, saying, "O Frida, I am so glad, for you do play so beautifully."
"As for that matter, so do you, Hans," she replied, for the boy had the musical talent so often found even in German peasants, and taught by Frida could really play with taste on the violin.
"O Herr Mueller," she said, turning to him, "I wish some day you could hear Hans play; I am sure you would like it. If only he could get lessons! I know he would excel in it."
"Is that so?" said the violinist; "then we must get that good Fraeulein Drechsler to have him down to Dringenstadt, and I will hear him play; and then if we find there is real talent, I might recommend him to the society for helping those who have a turn for music, but are not able to pay for instruction."
Hans's eyes danced with delight at the idea, but in the meantime he knew his duty was to help his father as much as he could in his work as a wood-cutter. "But then some day," he thought, "who knows but I might be able to devote my time to music, and so it would all be brought about through the kindness of little Frida."
Frida was a happy girl when a few days after the violinist's visit to the Forest she set out for Dringenstadt, to live for a month with Fraeulein Drechsler, and with her go on to Baden-Baden. A few more lessons were got from Herr Mueller, the selection of music she was to perform gone through again and again, and all was ready to start the next day.
When Frida went to her room that evening, great was her amazement to see laid out on her bed a prettily-made plain black delaine morning dress, neatly finished off at neck and wrists with a pure white frill; and beside it a simple white muslin one for evening wear, with a white silk sash to match. These Miss Drechsler told her were a present from herself. Frida's young heart was filled with gratitude to the kind friend who was so thoughtful of her wants; and she wondered if a day would ever come when she would be able in any way to repay the kindnesses of the friends whom God had raised up for her.
In the meantime Herr Mueller had told the Stanfords, in whose house the concert was to be held, about the young girl violinist whose services he had secured. They were much interested in her, and were prepared to give a hearty welcome, not to her only, but to her friend Miss Drechsler, whom they had already met.
Sir Richard Stanford, who was the head of an old family in the south of England, had with his wife come abroad for the health of their young and only daughter. Sir Richard and Lady Stanford were Christians, and interested themselves in the natives of the place where they were living, and themselves having highly-cultivated musical tastes, they took pleasure in helping on any of the poorer people there in whom they recognized the like talent.
"Father," said his young daughter Adeline, as she lay one warm day on a couch under a shady tree in the garden of their lovely villa at Baden-Baden, "suppose we have a concert in our villa some evening; and let us try and find out some good amateur performers, and also engage two or three really good professionals to play, so that some of the poorer players who have not opportunities of hearing them may do so, and be benefited thereby."
Anxious in any reasonable way to please their daughter, a girl not much older than Frida, Sir Richard and Lady Stanford agreed to carry out her suggestion; and calling their friend Herr Mueller to their assistance, the private concert was arranged for, and our friend the child of the Black Forest invited to play at it.
* * * * *
The day fixed for the concert had come round, and Adeline Stanford, who was more than usually well, flitted here and there, making preparations for the evening. The concert-room had been beautifully decorated, and the supper-table tastefully arranged. Very pretty did Ada (as she was called) look. Her finely-cut features and graceful appearance all proclaimed her high birth, and the innate purity and unselfishness of her spirit were stamped on her face. Adeline Stanford was a truly Christian girl whose great desire was to make those around her happy. One thing she had often longed for was to have a companion of her own age to live with her and be as a sister to her. Her parents often tried to get such a one, but as yet difficulties had arisen which prevented their doing so. The very morning of the concert, Ada had said, "O mother, how pleasant it would be, when we are travelling about and seeing so many beautiful places, to have some young girl with us who would share our pleasure with us and help to cheer you and father when I have one of my bad days and am fit for nothing." Then she added with a smile, "Not that I would like it only for your sakes, but for my own as well. It would be nice to have a sister companion to share my lessons and duties with me, and bear with my grumbles when I am ill."
Adeline's grumbles were so seldom heard that her parents could not help smiling at her words, though they acknowledged that her wish was a natural one; but then, where was the suitable girl to be found?
"Ah! here we are at last," said Miss Drechsler, as she and Frida drove up to the door of the villa where the Stanfords lived. "How lovely it all is!" said Frida, who had been in ecstasies ever since she arrived in Baden.
Everything was so new to her—not since her father's death had she been in a large town; and her admiration as they drove along the streets between the rows of beautiful trees was manifested by exclamations of delight.
Once or twice something in the appearance of the shops struck her as familiar. "Surely," she said, "I have seen these before, but where I cannot tell. Ah! look at that large toy-shop. I know I have been there, and some one who was with me bought me a cart to play with. I think it must have been mamma, for I recollect that the purse she had in her hand was like one that I often got from her to play with. Oh, I am sure I have lived here before with father and mother!"
As they neared the villa, the "woodland child" became more silent, and pressed closer to her friend's side.
"Ah! here they come," exclaimed Adeline Stanford, as followed by her father and mother she ran downstairs to welcome the strangers. Miss Drechsler they had seen before, but the appearance of the girl from the Black Forest struck them much. They had expected to see a peasant child (for Herr Mueller had told them nothing of her history nor spoken of her appearance), and when Frida had removed her hat and stood beside them in the drawing-room, they were astonished to see no country child, but a singularly beautiful, graceful girl, of refined appearance and lady-like manners. Her slight shyness soon vanished through Ada's unaffected pleasant ways, and erelong the two girls were talking to each other with all the frankness of youth, and long ere the hour for the concert came they were fast friends.
Ada was herself a good pianist, and could play fairly well on the violin, and she found that Herr Mueller had arranged that she and the girl from the Forest should perform together.
"Come, Frida," she said, "let us play the last passage together; we must be sure we have it perfect."
"Oh, how well you play!" she said when they had finished. "Has Herr Mueller been your only teacher?"
"Latterly he has," was the answer; "but when I was quite little I was well taught by my father."
"Your father!" said Adeline; "does he play well? He cannot have had many advantages if he has to work in the woods all day."
"Work in the woods! why, he never did that." Then she added, "Oh! I see you think Wilhelm Hoerstel is my father; but that is not the case. My own dear father is dead, and Wilhelm found me left alone in the Black Forest."
"Found in the Black Forest alone!" said Ada. Here was indeed a romance to take the fancy of an imaginative, impulsive girl like Adeline Stanford; and leaving Frida with her story unfinished, she darted off to her parents to tell them what she had heard. They also were much interested in her story, for they had been much astonished at the appearance of the girl from the Forest; and telling Ada that she had better go back to Frida, they turned to Miss Drechsler and asked her to tell them all she knew of the child's history.
She did so, mentioning also her brown Bible and the way in which God was using its words amongst the wood-cutters in the Forest.
* * * * *
The concert was over, but Sir Richard, Lady Stanford, and Miss Drechsler lingered awhile (after the girls had gone to bed), talking over the events of the evening.
"How beautifully your young friend played!" said Lady Stanford; "her musical talent is wonderful, but the girl herself is the greatest wonder of all. She cannot be the child of common people, she is so like a lady and so graceful. And, Miss Drechsler, can you tell us how she comes to be possessed of such a lovely mosaic necklace as she wore to-night? Perhaps it belongs to yourself, and you have lent it to her for the occasion."
"No, indeed," was the answer; "it is not mine. It evidently belonged to the child's mother, and was on her neck the night she was found in the Forest."
"Then," said Sir Richard, "it is just possible it may be the means of leading to the discovery of the girl's parentage, for the pattern is an uncommon one. She is a striking-looking child, and it is strange that her face haunts me with the idea that I have seen it somewhere before; but that is impossible, as the girl tells me she has never been in England, and I can never have met her here."
"It is curious," said Miss Drechsler; "but I also have the feeling that I have seen some one whom she greatly resembles when I was in England living in Gloucestershire with the Wardens."
"'Tis strange," said Lady Stanford, "that you should see a likeness to some one whom you have seen and yet cannot name, the more so that the face is not a common one."
"She is certainly a remarkable child," continued Miss Drechsler, "and a really good one. She has a great love for her Bible, and I think tries to live up to its precepts."
That evening Sir Richard and his wife talked together of the possibility of by-and-by taking Frida into their house as companion to Ada, specially whilst they were travelling about; and perhaps afterwards taking her with them to England and continuing her education there, so that if her relations were not found she might when old enough obtain a situation as governess, or in some way turn her musical talents to account.
The day after the concert, Frida returned with Miss Drechsler to Dringenstadt, to remain a few days with her before returning to her Forest home.
As they were leaving the Stanfords, and Frida had just sprung into the carriage which was to convey them to the station, a young man who had been present at the concert, and was a friend of the Stanfords, came forward and asked leave to shake hands with her, and congratulated her on her violin-playing. He was a good-looking young man of perhaps three-and-twenty years, with the easy manners of a well-born gentleman.
After saying farewell, he turned into the house with the Stanfords, and began to talk about the "fair violinist," as he termed her. "Remarkably pretty girl," he said; "reminds me strongly of some one I have seen. Surely she cannot be (as I overheard a young lady say last night) just a wood-cutter's child."
"No, she is not that," replied Sir Richard, and then he told the young man something of her history, asking him if he had observed the strange antique necklace which the girl wore.
"No," he answered, "I did not. Could you describe it to me?" As Sir Richard did so a close observer must have seen a look of pained surprise cross the young man's face, and he visibly changed colour. "Curious," he said as he rose hastily. "It would be interesting to know how it came into her possession; perhaps it was stolen, who knows?" And so saying, he shook hands and departed.
Reginald Gower was the only child of an old English family of fallen fortune. Rumour said he was of extravagant habits, but that he expected some day to inherit a fine property and large fortune from a distant relative.
There were good traits in Reginald's character: he had a kind heart, and was a most loving son to his widowed mother, who doted on him; but a love of ease and a selfish regard to his own comfort marred his whole character, and above all things an increasing disregard of God and the Holy Scriptures was pervading more and more his whole life.
As he walked away from Sir Richard's house, his thoughts were occupied with the story he had just heard of the child found in the Black Forest. He was quite aware of the fact that the girl's face forcibly reminded him of the picture of a beautiful girl that hung in the drawing-room of a manor-house near his own home in Gloucestershire. He knew that the owner of that face had been disinherited (though the only child of the house) on account of her marriage, which was contrary to the wishes of her parents, and that now they did not know whether she were dead or alive; though surely he had lately heard a report that, after years of bitter indignation at her, they had softened, and were desirous of finding out where she was, if still alive. And then what impressed him most was the curious coincidence (he called it) that round the neck of the girl in the picture was just such another mosaic necklace as the Stanfords had described the one to be which the young violinist wore.
Was it possible, he asked himself, that she could be the child of the daughter of the manor of whom his mother had often told him? and if so, ought he to tell them of his suspicions—the more so that he had heard from his mother that the lady of the manor was failing in health, and longing, as she had long done, to see and forgive her child? If he were right in his surmises that this "woodland girl," as he had heard her called, was the daughter of the child of the manor, then even if the mother was dead, the young violinist would be received with open arms by both the grand-parents, and would (and here arose the difficulty in the young man's mind) inherit the estates and wealth which would have devolved on her mother, all of which, but for the existence of this woodland child, he, Reginald Gower, would have inherited as heir-at-law.
"Well, there is no call on you to say anything about the matter, at all events at present," whispered the evil spirit in the young man's heart. "You may be mistaken. Why ruin your whole future prospects for a fancy? Likenesses are so deceptive; and as to the necklace, pooh! that is nonsense—there are hundreds of mosaic necklaces. Let the matter alone, and go your way. 'Eat, drink, and be merry.'"
All very well; but why just then of all times in the world did the words of the Bible, taught him long ago by the mother he loved, come so vividly to his remembrance—"Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God;" and those words, heard more distinctly still, which his mother had taught him to call "the royal law of love"—"As ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them"?
Good and bad spirits seemed fighting within him for the mastery; but alas, alas! the selfish spirit so common to humanity won the day, and Reginald Gower turned from the low, soft voice of the Holy Spirit pleading within him, and resolutely determined to be silent regarding his meeting with the child found in the Black Forest, and the strange circumstance of her likeness to the picture and her possession of the mosaic necklace.
Once again the god of self, who has so many votaries in this world, had gained a great triumph, and the prince of this world got a more sure seat in the heart of the young man. But all unknown to him there was one "climbing for him the silver, shining stair that leads to God's great treasure-house," and claiming for her fatherless boy "the priceless boon of the new heart."