A STORY OF THE SWISS VALLEYS
AUTHOR OF "HEIDI, CORNELLI", ETC.
ELISABETH P. STORK
The present story is the third by Madame Spyri to appear in this series. For many years the author was known almost entirely for her Alpine classic, "Heidi". The publication of a second story, "Cornelli", during the past year was so favorably received as to assure success for a further venture.
"Maezli" may be pronounced the most natural and one of the most entertaining of Madame Spyri's creations. The atmosphere is created by an old Swiss castle and by the romantic associations of the noble family who lived there. Plot interest is supplied in abundance by the children of the Bergmann family with varying characters and interests. A more charming group of young people and a more wise and affectionate mother would be hard to find. Every figure is individual and true to life, with his or her special virtues and foibles, so that any grown person who picks up the volume will find it a world in miniature and will watch eagerly for the special characteristics of each child to reappear. Naturalness, generosity, and forbearance are shown throughout not by precept but by example. The story is at once entertaining, healthy, and, in the best sense of a word often misused, sweet. Insipid books do no one any good, but few readers of whatever age they may be will fail to enjoy and be the better for Maezli.
It may save trouble to give here a summary of the Bergmann household. The mother is sometimes called Mrs. Rector, on account of her being the widow of a former rector of the parish, and sometimes Mrs. Maxa, to avoid confusion with the wife of the present rector. It is as if there were two Mrs. John Smiths, one of whom is called Mrs. Helen; Maxa being, of course, a feminine Christian name. Of the five children the eldest is the high-spirited, impulsive Bruno, who is just of an age to go away to a city school. Next comes his sister Mea, whose fault is that she is too submissive and confiding. Kurt, the second boy, is the most enterprising and humorous of the family; whereas, Lippo, another boy, is the soul of obedience and formality. Most original of all is Maezli, probably not over six, as she is too young to go to school.
The writer of this preface knows of one family—not his own, either—which is waiting eagerly for another book by the author of "Heidi" and "Cornelli." To this and all families desirous of a story full of genuine fun and genuine feeling the present volume may be recommended without qualification.
CHARLES WHARTON STORK
I. IN NOLLA II. DIVERS WORRIES III. CASTLE WILDENSTEIN IV. AN UNEXPECTED APPARITION V. OPPRESSIVE AIR VI. NEW FRIENDS VII. THE MOTHER'S ABSENCE HAS CONSEQUENCES VIII. MAeZLI PAYS VISITS IX. IN THE CASTLE
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"I can shout very loud, just listen: 'Mr. Castle-Steward'!"
"No, I won't do it," said Lippo again, after scrutinizing the unusual performance.
She went with folded hands from one bed to the other.
Before following her brother she wanted to see exactly what the Knight looked like.
He shook the little girl's hand with all his might.
"Can you guess why I am taking you up there?"
A head was raised up and two sharp eyes were directed towards her.
It seemed to crown all the preceding pleasures to roam without restraint in the woods and meadows.
For nearly twenty years the fine old castle had stood silent and deserted on the mountain-side. In its neighborhood not a sound could be heard except the twittering of the birds and the soughing of the old pine-trees. On bright summer evenings the swallows whizzed as before about the corner gables, but no more merry eyes looked down from the balconies to the green meadows and richly laden apple trees in the valley.
But just now two merry eyes were searchingly raised to the castle from the meadow below, as if they might discover something extraordinary behind the fast-closed shutters.
"Mea, come quick," the young spy exclaimed excitedly, "look! Now it's opening." Mea, who was sitting on the bench under the large apple tree, with a book, put aside the volume and came running.
"Look, look! Now it's moving," her brother continued with growing suspense. "It's the arm of a black coat; wait, soon the whole shutter will be opened."
At this moment a black object lifted itself and soared up to the tower.
"It was only a bird, a large black-bird," said the disappointed Mea. "You have called me at least twenty times already; every time you think that the shutters will open, and they never do. You can call as often as you please from now on, I shall certainly not come again."
"I know they will open some day," the boy asserted firmly, "only we can't tell just when; but it might be any time. If only stiff old Trius would answer the questions we ask him! He knows everything that is going on up there. But the old crosspatch never says a word when one comes near him to talk; all he does is to come along with his big stick. He naturally doesn't want anybody to know what is happening up there, but everybody in school knows that a ghost wanders about and sighs through the pine trees."
"Mother has said more than once that nothing is going on there at all. She doesn't want you to talk about the ghost with the school-children, and she has asked you not to try to find out what they know about it. You know, too, that mother wants you to call the castle watchman Mr. Trius and not just Trius."
"Oh, yes, I'll call him Mr. Trius, but I'll make up such a song about him that everybody will know who it is about," Kurt said threateningly.
"How can he help it when there is no ghost in Wildenstein about which he could tell you tales," Mea remarked.
"Oh, he has enough to tell," Kurt eagerly continued. "Many wonderful things must have happened in a castle that is a thousand years old. He knows them all and could tell us, but his only answer to every question is a beating. You know, Mea, that I do not believe in ghosts or spirits. But it is so exciting to imagine that an old, old Baron of Wallerstaetten might wander around the battlements in his armor. I love to imagine him standing under the old pine trees with wild eyes and threatening gestures. I love to think of fighting him, or telling him that I am not afraid."
"Oh, yes, I am sure you would run away if the armoured knight with his wild eyes should come nearer," said Mea. "It is never hard to be brave when one is as far away from danger as you are now."
"Oho! so you think I would be afraid of a ghost," Kurt exclaimed laughing. "I am sure that the ghost would rather run away from me if I shouted at him very loudly. I shall make a song about him soon and then we'll go up and sing it for him. All my school friends want to go with me; Max, Hans and Clevi, his sister. You must come, too, Mea, and then you'll see how the ghost will sneak away as soon as we scream at him and sing awfully loud."
"But, Kurt, how can a ghost, which doesn't exist, sneak away?" Mea exclaimed. "With all your wild ideas about fighting, you seem to really believe that there is a ghost in Wildenstein."
"You must understand, Mea, that this is only to prove that there is none," Kurt eagerly went on. "A real ghost could rush towards us, mad with rage, if we challenged him that way. You will see what happens. It will be a great triumph for me to prove to all the school and the village people that there is no restless ghost who wanders around Wildenstein."
"No, I shan't see it, because I won't come. Mother does not want us to have anything to do with this story, you know that, Kurt! Oh, here comes Elvira! I must speak to her."
With these words Mea suddenly flew down the mountainside. A girl of her own age was slowly coming up the incline. It was hard to tell if this measured walk was natural to her or was necessary to preserve the beautiful red and blue flowers on her little hat, which were not able to stand much commotion. It was clearly evident, however, that the approaching girl had no intention of changing her pace, despite the fact that she must have noticed long ago the friend who was hurrying towards her.
"She certainly could move her proud stilts a little quicker when she sees how Mea is running," Kurt said angrily. "Mea shouldn't do it. Oh, well, I shall make a song about Elvira that she won't ever forget."
Kurt now ran away, too, but in the opposite direction, where he had discovered his mother. She was standing before a rose bush from which she was cutting faded blossoms and twigs. Kurt was glad to find his mother busy with work which did not occupy her thoughts, as he often longed for such an opportunity without success. Whenever he was eager to discuss his special problems thoroughly and without being interrupted, his young brother and sister were sure to intrude with their questions, or the two elder children needed her advice at the same moment. So Kurt rushed into the garden to take advantage of this unusual opportunity. But today again he was not destined to have his object fulfilled. Before he reached his mother, a woman approached her from the other side, and both entered immediately into a lively conversation. If it had been somebody else than his special old friend Mrs. Apollonie, Kurt would have felt very angry indeed. But this woman had gained great distinction in Kurt's eyes by being well acquainted with the old caretaker of the castle; so he always had a hope of hearing from her many things that were happening there.
To his great satisfaction he heard Mrs. Apollonie say on his approach: "No, no, Mrs. Rector, old Trius does not open any windows in vain; he has not opened any for nearly twenty years."
"He might want to wipe away the dust for once in his life; it's about time," Kurt's mother replied. "I don't believe the master has returned."
"Why should the tower windows, where the master always lived, be opened then? Something unusual has happened," said Mrs. Apollonie significantly.
"The ghost of Wildenstein might have pushed them open," Kurt quickly asserted.
"Kurt, can't you stop talking about this story? It is only an invention of people who are not contented with one misfortune but must make up an added terror," the mother said with animation. "You know, Kurt, that I feel sorry about this foolish tale and want you to pay no attention to it."
"But mother, I only want to support you; I want to help you get rid of people's superstitions and to prove to them that there is no ghost in Wildenstein," Kurt assured her.
"Yes, yes, if only one did not know how the brothers—"
"No, Apollonie," the rector's widow interrupted her, "you least of all should support the belief in these apparitions. Everybody knows that you lived in the castle more than twenty years, and so people think that you know what is going on. You realize well enough that all the talk has no foundation whatever."
Mrs. Apollonie lightly shrugged her shoulders, but said no more.
"But, mother, what can the talk come from then, when there is no foundation for it, as you say?" asked Kurt, who could not let the matter rest.
"There is no real foundation for the talk," the mother replied, "and no one of all those who talk has ever seen the apparition with his own eyes. It is always other people who tell, and those have been told again by others, that something uncanny has been seen at the castle. The talk first started from a misfortune which happened years ago, and later on the matter came up and people thought a similar misfortune had taken place again. Although this was an absolutely false report, all the old stories were brought up again and the talk became livelier than ever. But people who know better should be very emphatic in suppressing it."
"What was the misfortune that happened long ago in the castle and then again?" Kurt asked in great suspense.
"I have no time to tell you now, Kurt," the mother declared decisively. "You have to attend to your school work and I to other affairs. When I have you all together quietly some evening I shall tell you about those bygone times. It will be better for you to know than to muse about all the reports you hear. You are most active of all in that, Kurt, and I do not like it; so I hope that you will let the matter rest as soon as you have understood how unfounded the talk really is. Come now, Apollonie, and I will give you the plants you wanted. I am so glad to be able to let you have some of my geraniums. You keep your little flower garden in such perfect order that it is a pleasure to see it."
During the foregoing speeches Apollonie's face had clearly expressed disagreement with what had been said; she had, however, too much respect for the lady to utter her doubts. Bright sunshine spread itself over her features now, because her flower garden was her greatest pride and joy.
"Yes, yes, Mrs. Rector, it is a beautiful thing to raise flowers," she said, nodding her head. "They always do their duty, and if one grows a little to one side, I can put a stick beside it and it grows straight again as it ought to. If only the child were like that, then I should have no more cares. But she only has her own ideas in her head, and such strange whims that it would be hard to tell where they come from."
"There is nothing bad about having her own ideas," replied the rector's widow. "It naturally depends on what kind of ideas they are. It seems to me that Loneli is a good-natured child, who is easily led. All children need guidance. What special whims does Loneli have?"
"Oh, Mrs. Rector, nobody knows what things the child might do," Apollonie said eagerly. "Yesterday she came home from school with glowing eyes and said to me, 'Grandmother, I should love to go to Spain. Beautiful flowers of all colors grow there and large sparkling grapes, and the sun shines down brightly on the flowers so that they glisten! I wish I could go right away!' Just think of a ten-year-old child saying such a thing. I wonder what to expect next."
"There is nothing very terrible about that, Apollonie," said the rector's widow with a smile. "The child might have heard you mention Spain yourself so that it roused her imagination. She probably heard in school about the country, and her wish to go there only shows that she is extremely attentive. To think out how she might get there some time is a very innocent pleasure, which you can indulge. I agree with you that children should be brought up in a strict and orderly way, because they might otherwise start on the wrong road, and nobody loves such children. But Loneli is not that kind at all. There is no child in Nolla whom I would rather see with my own."
Apollonie's honest face glowed anew. "That is my greatest consolation," she said, "and I need it. Many say to me that an old woman like me is not able to bring up and manage a little child. If you once were obliged to say to me that I had spoiled my grandchild, I should die of shame. But I know that the matter is still well, as long as you like to see the child together with yours. Thank you ever so much now. Those will fill a whole bed," she continued, upon receiving a large bunch of plants from her kind friend. "Please let me know if I can help in any way. I am always at home for you, Mrs. Rector, you know that."
Apollonie now said good-bye with renewed thanks. Carrying her large green bundle very carefully in order not to injure the tender little branches, she hurried through the garden towards the castle height. The rector's widow glanced after her thoughtfully. Apollonie was intimately connected with the earliest impressions of her childhood, as well as with the experiences of her youth, with all the people whom she had loved most and who had stood nearest to her. Her appearance therefore always brought up many memories in Mrs. Maxa's heart. Since her husband's death, when she had left the rectory in the valley and had come back to her old home, all her friends called her Mrs. Maxa to distinguish her from the present rector's wife of the village. She had been used to see Apollonie in her parents' house. Baroness Wallerstaetten, the mistress of the castle at that time, had often consulted the rector as to many things. Apollonie, a young girl then, had always been her messenger, and everyone liked to see her at the rectory. When it was discovered how quick and able young Apollonie was, things were more and more given into her charge at the castle. The Baroness hardly undertook anything in her household without consulting Apollonie and asking her assistance. The children, who were growing up, also asked many favors from her, which she was ever ready to fulfill. The devoted, faithful servant belonged many years so entirely to the castle that everyone called her "Castle Apollonie."
Mrs. Maxa was suddenly interrupted in her thoughts by loud and repeated calls of "Mama, Mama!"
"Mama!" it sounded once more from two clear children's voices, and a little boy and girl stood before her. "The teacher has read us a paper on which was written—" began the boy.
"Shall I, too; shall I, too?" interrupted the girl.
"Maezli," said the mother, "let Lippo finish; otherwise I can't understand what you want."
"Mama, the teacher has read us a paper, on which was written that in Sils on the mountain—"
"Shall I, too? Shall I, too?" Maezli, his sister, interrupted again.
"Be quiet, Maezli, till Lippo has finished," the mother commanded.
"He has said the same thing twice already and he is so slow. There has been a fire in Sils on the mountain and we are to send things to the people. Shall I do it, too, Mama, shall I, too?" Maezli had told it all in a single breath.
"You didn't say it right," Lippo retorted angrily. "You didn't start from the beginning. One must not start in the middle, the teacher told us that. Now I'll tell you, Mama. The teacher has read us a paper—"
"We know that already, Lippo," the mother remarked. "What was in the paper?"
"In the paper was written that a big fire in Sils on the mountain has destroyed two houses and everything in them. Then the teacher said that all the pupils of the class—"
"Shall I too, shall I, too?" Maezli urged.
"Finish a little quicker now, Lippo," said the mother.
"Then the teacher said that all the pupils from all the classes must bring some of their things to give to the poor children—"
"Shall I too, Mama, shall I go right away and get together all they need?" Maezli said rapidly, as if the last moment for action had arrived.
"Yes, you can give some of your clothes and Lippo can bring some of his," the mother said. "I shall help you, for we have plenty of time. To-morrow is Sunday and the children are sure not to bring their things to school before Monday, as the teacher will want to send them off himself."
Lippo agreed and was just beginning to repeat the exact words of the teacher in which he had asked for contributions. But he had no chance to do it.
Kurt came running up at this moment, calling so loudly that nothing else could possibly be heard: "Mother, I forgot to give you a message. Bruno is not coming home for supper. The Rector is climbing High Ems with him and the two other boys. They will only be home at nine o'clock."
The mother looked a little frightened. "Are the two others his comrades, the Knippel boys?"
"I hope everything will go well," she continued. "When those three are together outside of school they always quarrel. When we came here first I was so glad that Bruno would have them for friends, but now I am in continual fear that they will clash."
"Yes, mother," Kurt asserted, "you would never have been glad of that friendship if you had really known them. Wherever they can harm anybody they are sure to do it, and always behind people's backs. And Bruno always is like a loaded gun-barrel, just a little spark and he is on fire and explodes."
"It is time to go in," said the mother now, taking the two youngest by the hand. Kurt followed. It had not escaped him that an expression of sorrow had spread over his mother's face after his words. He hated to see his mother worried.
"Oh, mother," he said confidently, "there is no reason for you to be upset. If Bruno does anything to them, they are sure to give it back to him in double measure. They'll do it in a sneaky way, because they are afraid of him in the open field."
"Do you really think that this reassures me, Kurt?" she asked turning towards him. Kurt now realized that his words could not exactly comfort his mother, but he felt that some help should be found, for he was always able to discover such a good side to every evil, that the latter was swallowed up. He saw an advantage now. "You know, mother, when Bruno has discharged his thunder, it is all over for good. Then he is like a scrubbed out gun-barrel, all clean and polished. Isn't that better than if things would keep sticking there?"
Mea, standing at the open window, was beckoning to the approaching group with lively gestures; it meant that the time for supper was already overdue. Kurt, rushing to her side, informed her that their mother meant to tell them the story of Wallerstaetten as soon as everything was quiet that night and the little ones were put to bed: "Just mark now if we won't hear about the ghost of Wallerstaetten," he remarked at the end. Kurt was mistaken, however. Everything was still and quiet long ago, the little ones were in bed and the last lessons were done. But Bruno had not yet returned. Over and over again the mother looked at the clock.
"You must not be afraid, mother, that they will have a quarrel, because the rector is with them," Kurt said consolingly.
Now rapid steps sounded outside, the door was violently flung open and Bruno appeared, pale with rage: "Those two mean creatures, those malicious rascals; the sneaky hypocrites!—the—the—"
"Bruno, no more please," the mother interrupted. "You are beside yourself. Come sit down with us and tell us what happened as soon as you feel more quiet; but no more such words, please."
It took a considerable time before Bruno could tell his experience without breaking out again. He told them finally that the rector had mentioned the castle of High Ems in their lessons that day. After asking his pupils if they had ever inspected the famous ruins they had all said no, so the rector invited the three big boys to join him in a walk to see the castle. It was quite a distance away and they had examined the ruins very thoroughly. Afterwards the rector had taken them to a neighboring inn for a treat, so that it was dark already when they were walking down the village street. "Just where the footpath, which comes from the large farmhouse crosses the road," Bruno continued, "Loneli came running along with a full milk-bottle in her arm. That scoundrel Edwin quickly put out his foot in front of her and Loneli fell down her whole length; the milk bottle flew far off and the milk poured down the road like a small white stream. The boys nearly choked with laughter and all I was able to do was to give Edwin a sound box on the ear," Bruno concluded, nearly boiling with rage. "Such a coward! He ran right off after the Rector, who had gone ahead and had not seen it. Loneli went silently away, crying to herself. I'd like to have taken hold of both of them and given them proper—"
"Yes, and Loneli is sure to be scolded by her grandmother for having spilled the milk," Mea interrupted; "she always thinks that Loneli is careless and that it is always her own fault when somebody harms her. She is always punished for the slightest little fault."
"But she never defends herself," Kurt said, half in anger, partly with pity. "If those two ever tried to harm Clevi, they would soon get their faces scratched; Apollonie has brought Loneli up the wrong way."
"Should you like to see Loneli jump at a boy's face and scratch it, Kurt?" asked the mother.
After meditating a while Kurt replied, "I guess I really shouldn't."
"Don't you all like Loneli because she never gets rough and always is friendly, obliging and cheerful? Her grandmother really loves her very much; but she is a very honest woman and worries about the child just because she is anxious to bring her up well. I should be extremely sorry if she scolded Loneli in the first excitement about the spilled milk. The boys should have gotten the blame, and I am sure that Apollonie will be sorry if she hears later on what really happened."
"I'll quickly run over and tell her about it," Kurt suggested. The mother explained to him, however, that grandmother and grandchild were probably fast asleep by that time.
"Are we going to have the story of Castle Wildenstein for a finish now?" he inquired. But his mother had already risen, pointing to the wall clock, and Kurt saw that the usual time for going to bed had passed. As the following day was a Sunday, he was satisfied. They generally had quiet evenings then and there would be no interruptions to the story. Bruno, too, had now calmed down. It had softened him that his mother had found the Knippel boys' behaviour contemptible and that she had not excused them in the least. He might have told the Rector about it, but such accusations he despised. He felt quite appeased since his mother had shared his indignation and knew about the matter. Soon the house lay peacefully slumbering under the fragrant apple trees. The golden moon above was going her way and seemed to look down with friendly eyes, as if she was gratified that the house, which was filled all day with such noise and lively movement, was standing there so calm and peaceful.
Before the mother went off to church on Sunday morning she always glanced into the living-room to see if the children were quietly settled at their different occupations and to hope that everything would remain in order during her absence. When she looked in to-day everything was peaceful. Bruno and Mea were both sitting in a corner lost in a book, Kurt had spread out his drawings on a table before him, and Lippo and Maezli were building on their small table a beautiful town with churches, towers and large palaces. The mother was thoroughly satisfied and went away. For awhile everything was still. A bright ray of sunshine fell over Kurt's drawing and gaily played about on the paper. Kurt, looking up, saw how the meadows were sparkling outside.
"The two rascally milk-spillers from yesterday ought to be locked up for the whole day," Kurt suddenly exploded.
Mea apparently had been busy with the same thought for she assented very eagerly. The two talked over the whole affair anew and had to give vent to their indignation about the scoundrels and their pity for poor Loneli. Maezli must have found the conversation entertaining, for glancing over to the others, she let Lippo place the blocks whichever way he pleased, something that very seldom happened. Only when the children said no more she came back to her task.
"Goodness gracious!" Kurt exclaimed suddenly, starting up from his drawing; "you ought to have reminded me, Mea, that we have to bring some clothes to school for the poor people whose houses were burnt up. You heard it, but mother does not even know about it yet."
"I forgot it, too," said Mea quietly, continuing to read.
"Mother knows about it long ago. I told her right away," Lippo declared. "Teacher told us to be sure not to forget."
"Quite right, little school fox," Kurt replied, while he calmly kept on drawing. As long as his mother knew about the matter he did not need to bother any more.
But the last words had interested Maezli very much. Throwing together the houses, towers and churches she said to Lippo, "Come, Lippo, I know something amusing we can do which will please mama, too."
Lippo wondered what that could be, but he first laid every block neatly away in the big box and did not let Maezli hurry him in the least.
"Don't do it that way," Maezli called out impatiently. "Throw them all in and put on the lid. Then it's all done."
"One must not do that, Maezli; no one must do it that way," Lippo said seriously. "One ought to put in the first block and pack it before one takes up the second."
"Then I won't wait for you," Maezli declared, rapidly whisking out by the door.
When Lippo had properly filled the box and set it in its right place, he quickly followed Maezli, wondering what her plan was. But he could find her nowhere, neither in the hall nor in the garden, and he got no answer to his loud, repeated calls. Finally a reply came which sounded strangely muffled, as if from up above, so he went up and into her bedroom. There Maezli was sitting in the middle of a heap of clothes, her head thrust far into a wardrobe. Apparently she was still pulling out more things.
"You certainly are doing something wonderful," said Lippo, glancing with his big eyes at the clothes on the floor.
"I am doing the right thing," said Maezli now in the most decided tone. "Kurt has said that we must send the poor people some clothes, so we must take them all out and lay together everything we don't need any more. Mama will be glad when she has no more to do about it and they can be sent away to-morrow. Now get your things, too, and we'll put them all in a heap."
The matter, however, seemed still rather doubtful to Lippo. Standing thoughtfully before all the little skirts and jackets, he felt that this would not be quite after his mother's wish.
"When we want to do something with our clothes, we always have to ask mother," he began again.
But Maezli did not answer and only pulled out a bunch of woolen stockings and a heavy winter cloak, spreading everything on the floor.
"No, I won't do it," said Lippo again, after scrutinizing the unusual performance.
"You don't want to do it because you are afraid it will be too much work," Maezli asserted with a face quite red with zeal. "I'll help you when I am done here."
"I won't do it anyhow," Lippo repeated resolutely; "I won't because we are not allowed to."
Maezli found no time to persuade him further, as she began to hunt for her heavy winter shoes, which were still in the wardrobe. But before she had brought them forth to the light, the door opened and the mother was looking full of horror at the devastation.
"But children, what a horrible disorder!" she cried out, "and on Sunday morning, too. What has made you do it? What is this wild dry-goods shop on the floor?"
"Now, you see, Maezli," said Lippo, not without showing great satisfaction at having so clearly proved that he had been in the right. Maezli tried with all her might to prove to her mother that her intention had solely been to save her the work necessary to get the things together.
But the mother now explained decidedly to the little girl that she never needed to undertake such actions in the future as she could not possibly judge which clothes she still needed and which could be given away. Maezli was also told that such help on her part only resulted in double work for her mother. "Besides I can see Maezli," the mother concluded, "that your great zeal seems to come from a wish to get rid of all the things you don't like to wear yourself. All your woolen things, which you always say scratch your skin. So you do not mind if other children have them, Maezli?"
"They might like them better than to be cold," was Maezli's opinion.
"Oh, mother, Mrs. Knippel is coming up the road toward our house; I am sure she is coming to see us," said Lippo, who had gone to the window.
"And I have not even taken my things off on account of your disorder here," said the mother a little frightened. "Maezli, go and greet Mrs. Knippel and take her into the front room. Tell her that I have just come from church and that I shall come directly."
Maezli ran joyfully away; the errand seemed to please her. She received the guest with excellent manners and led her into the front room to the sofa, for Maezli knew exactly the way her mother always did. Then she gave her mother's message.
"Very well, very well, And what do you want to do on this beautiful Sunday?" the lady asked,
"Take a walk," Maezli answered rapidly. "Are they still locked up?" she then casually asked.
"Who? Who? Whom do you mean?" and the lady looked somewhat disapprovingly at the little girl.
"Edwin and Eugen," Maezli answered fearlessly.
"I should like to know where you get such ideas," the lady said with growing irritation. "I should like to know why the boys should be locked up."
"Because they are so mean to Loneli all the time," Maezli declared.
The mother entered now. To her friendly greeting she only received a very cold reply.
"I only wonder, Mrs. Rector," the guest began immediately in an irritated manner, "what meanness that little poison-toad of a Loneli has spread and invented about my boys. But I wonder still more that some people should believe such things."
Mrs. Maxa was very much astonished that her visitor should have already heard what had taken place the night before, as she knew that her sons would not speak of it of their own free will.
"As long as you know about it already, I shall tell you what happened," she said. "You have apparently been misinformed. It had nothing to do whatever with a meanness on Loneli's part. Maezli, please join the other children and stay there till I come," the mother interrupted herself, turning to the little girl, whose eyes had been expectantly glued on the visitor's face in the hope of hearing if the two boys were still locked up.
Maezli walked away slowly, still hoping that she would hear the news before she reached the door. But Maezli was doomed to be disappointed, as no word was spoken. Then Mrs. Maxa related the incident of the evening before as it occurred.
"That is nothing at all," said the district attorney's wife in answer. "Those are only childish jokes. All children hold out their feet sometimes to trip each other. Such things should not be reckoned as faults big enough to scold children for."
"I do not agree with you," said Mrs. Maxa. "Such kinds of jokes are very much akin to roughness, and from small cruelties larger ones soon result. Loneli has really suffered harm from this action, and I think that joking ceases under such circumstances."
"As I said, it is not worth the trouble of losing so many words about. I feel decidedly that too much fuss is made about the grandmother and the child. Apollonie does not seem to get it out of her head that her name was Castle-Apollonie and she carries her head so high that the child will soon learn it from her. But I have come to talk with you about something much more important."
The visitor now gave her listener some information that seemed to be far from pleasing to Mrs. Maxa, because the face of the latter became more and more worried all the time. Mrs. Knippel and her husband had come to the conclusion that the time had come when their sons should be sent to the neighboring town in order to enter the lowest classes of the high school. The Rector's teaching had been sufficient till now, but they felt that the boys had outgrown him and belonged to a more advanced school. So they had decided to find a good boarding place for the three boys together, as Bruno would naturally join them in order that they could remain together. Since the three would, in later years, have great authority in the little community, it would be splendid if they were educated alike and could agree thoroughly in everything. "My husband means to go to town in the near future and look for a suitable house where they can board," the speaker concluded. "I am sure that you will be grateful if the question is solved for Bruno, as you would otherwise be obliged to settle it yourself."
Frau Maxa's heart was very heavy at this news. She already saw the consequences and pictured the terrible scenes that would result if the three boys were obliged to live closely together.
"The thought of sending Bruno away from home already troubles me greatly," she said finally. "I do not see the necessity for it. Our rector, who has offered to teach them out of pure kindness, means to keep the boys under his care till a year from next spring. They are able to learn plenty still from him. However, if you have resolved to send your sons away, I shall be obliged to do the same, as the Rector could not continue the lessons for Bruno alone." Mrs. Maxa declined the offer of her visitor to look up a dwelling-place for Bruno, as she had to talk the matter over first with her brother. He was always her counsellor in these things, because he was the children's guardian.
The district attorney's wife did not seem gratified with this information. As she was anxious to have the matter settled then and there, she remarked rather sarcastically that a mother should be able to decide such matters alone. "The boys are sensible enough to behave properly without being constantly watched," she added. "I can certainly say that mine are, and where two hold to the right path, a third is sure to follow."
"My eldest is never one to follow blindly," Mrs. Maxa said with animation. "I should not wish it either in this case. I shall keep him at home as long as it is possible for me, and after that I shall send him away under God's protection."
"Just as you say," the other lady uttered, rising and taking leave. "We can talk the question of boarding over again another time," she remarked as she was going away; "when the time comes, my husband's preparation for the future will be welcome, I am sure."
When the mother, after escorting her guest, came back to the children's room, Maezli immediately called out, "Did she say if the two are still locked up?"
"What are you inventing, Maezli?" said the mother. "You probably don't know yourself what it means."
"Oh, yes, I know," Maezli assured her. "I asked her if the boys were still locked up because Kurt said that."
Kurt laughed out loud: "Oh, you naughty child to talk so wild! Because I say that those two ought to be locked up, Maezli runs over and immediately asks their mother that question."
Mrs. Maxa now understood clearly where her visitor had heard about her boy's behaviour of yesterday.
"Maezli," she said admonishingly, "have you forgotten that you are not to ask questions of grown-up people who come to see me?"
"But why shouldn't I ask what the locked-up children are doing?" Maezli declared, feigning great pity in her voice.
"Now the foxy little thing wants to incline mother to be comforted by pretending to pity them," Kurt declared.
Suddenly a terrific shout of joy sounded from all voices at once as they all called: "Uncle Phipp! Uncle Phipp!" In a moment they had disappeared through the door.
Kurt jumped out through the window, which was not dangerous for him and was the shortest way to the street. The mother also ran outside to greet Uncle Phipp who was her only brother. He lived on his estate in Sils valley, which was famous for its fruit. He was always the most welcome guest in his sister's house. He had been away on a journey and had not made his appearance for several weeks in Nolla, and his coming was therefore greeted with special enthusiasm. One could hardly guess that there was an uncle in the midst of the mass which was moving forward and taking up the whole breadth of the road. The five children were hanging on to him on all sides in such a way that it looked as if one solid person was walking along on many feet.
"Maxa, I have no hand for you as you can see," the brother saluted her. "I greet you heartily, though, with my head, which I can still nod."
"No, I want to have your hand," Mrs. Maxa replied. "Lippo can let your right hand go for a moment. How are you, Philip? Welcome home! Did you have a pleasant journey and did you find what you were looking for?"
"All has gone to my greatest satisfaction. Forward now, young people, because I want to take off my overcoat," the uncle commanded. "It is filled with heavy objects which might pull me to the ground."
Shouting with joy, the five now pushed their uncle into the house; they had all secretly guessed what the heavy objects in his long pockets were. When the uncle had reached the house, he insisted on taking off his coat alone in order to prevent the things from being hurt. He had to hang it up because the mother insisted that they should go to lunch and postpone everything else till the afternoon. The next difficult and important question to be settled was, who should be allowed to sit beside Uncle Philip at dinner, because those next had the best chance to talk to him. He chose the youngest two to-day. Leading him in triumph to the inviting-looking table, they placed him in their midst with joyfully sparkling eyes. It was a merry meal. The children were allowed to ask him all they wanted to and he told them so many amusing things about his travels that they could never get weary of listening. Last of all the good things came the Sunday cake, and when that was eaten, Maezli showed great signs of impatience, as if the best of all were still to come.
"I think that Maezli has noticed something," said the uncle; "and one must never let such a small and inquisitive nose point into empty air for too long. We must look now what my overcoat has brought back from the ship."
Maezli who had already jumped up from her chair seized her uncle's hand as soon as he rose. She wanted to be as close to him as possible while he was emptying the two deep pockets. What lovely red books came out first! He presented them to Bruno and Kurt who appeared extremely pleased with their presents.
"This is for mother for her mending" Maezli called out looking with suspense at her uncle's fingers. He was just pulling out a dainty little sewing case.
"You guessed wrong that time, Maezli," he said. "Your mother gets a present, too, but this is for Mea, who is getting to be a young lady. She will soon visit her friends with the sewing case under her arm."
"Oh, how lovely, uncle, how lovely!" Mea cried out, altogether enchanted with her gift. "I wish you had brought some friends for me with you; they are hard enough to find here."
"I promise to do that another time, Mea. To-day there was no more room for them in my overcoat. But now comes the most important thing of all!" and with these words the uncle pulled a large box out of each pocket. "These are for the small people," he said, "but do not mix them up. In one are stamping little horses, and in the other little steaming pots. Which is for Maezli?"
"The stamping horses," she said quickly.
"I don't think so. Take it now and look," said the uncle. When Lippo had received his box also, the two ran over to their table, but Maezli suddenly paused half-way.
"Uncle Philip," she asked eagerly, "has mother gotten something, too, something nice? Can I see it?"
"Yes, something very nice," the uncle answered, "but she has not gotten it yet; one can't see it, but one can hear it."
"Oh, a piano," Maezli guessed quickly.
"No, no, Maezli; you might see as much as that," said the uncle. "You couldn't possibly guess it. It can't come out till all the small birds are tucked into their nests and everything is still and quiet."
Maezli ran to her table at last and when she found a perfect array of shining copper kettles, cooking pans and pots in her box she forgot completely about the horses. She dug with growing astonishment into her box, which seemed to be filled with ever new and more marvellous objects. Lippo was standing up his beautifully saddled horses in front of him, but the thing he liked best of all was a groom in a red jacket. He put him first on one horse and then on all the others, for, to the boy's great delight, he fitted into every saddle. He sat secure, straight and immovable even when the horses trotted or galloped.
Uncle Philip was less able to stand the quiet which was reigning after the presentation of his gifts than were the children, who were completely lost in the new marvels. He told them now that he was ready to take them all on a walk. Maezli was ready before anyone, because she had thrown everything into her box and then with a little pushing had been able to put on the lid. This did not worry her further, so she ran towards the uncle.
"Maezli, you mustn't do that; no, you mustn't," Lippo called after her. But the little girl stood already outside, holding her uncle's hand ready for the march. Everybody else was ready, as they all had only had one object to put away, and the mother gave her orders to Kathy, the cook.
"Come, Lippo, don't stay behind!" the uncle called into the room.
"I have to finish first, then I'll come right away," the little boy called back.
The mother was ready to go, too, now. "Where is Lippo?" she asked, examining her little brood.
"He sits in there like a mole in his hole and won't come out," said Kurt "Shall I fetch him? He'll come quickly enough then."
"No, no," the mother returned. "I'll attend to it." Lippo was sitting at his little table, laying one horse after the other slowly and carefully in the box so that they should not be damaged.
"Come, Lippo, come! We must not let Uncle Philip wait," the mother said.
"But, mother, one must not leave before everything is straightened up and put into the wardrobe," Lippo said timidly. "One must always pack up properly."
"That is true, but I shall help you to-day," said the mother, and with her assistance everything was soon put in order.
"Oh, here comes the slow-poke at last," Kurt cried out.
"No, you must not scold him, for Lippo did right in putting his things in order before taking a walk," said his mother, who had herself given him that injunction.
"Bravo, my god-son! I taught you that, but now we must start," said the uncle, extending his hand to the little boy. "Where shall we go?"
"Up to the castle," Kurt quickly suggested. Everybody was satisfied with the plan and the mother assented eagerly, as she had intended the same thing.
"We shall go up towards the castle hill," the uncle remarked as he set out after taking the two little ones by the hand. "We shall have to go around the castle, won't we? If cross Mr. Trius is keeping watch, we won't get very close to it, because the property is fenced in for a long way around."
"Oh, we can go up on the road to the entrance," said Kurt with animation. "We can look into the garden from there, but everything is overgrown. On the right is a wooden fence which we can easily climb. From there we can run all the way up through the meadows to a thick hawthorn hedge; on the other side of that begin the bushes and behind that the woods with the old fir and pine trees, but we can't climb over it. We could easily enough get to the castle from the woods."
"You seem to have a very minute knowledge of the place," said the uncle. "What does Mr. Trius say to the climbing of hedges? In the meadows there are beautiful apple-trees as far as I remember."
"He beats everybody he can catch," was Kurt's information, "even if they have no intention of taking the apples. Whenever he sees anyone in the neighborhood of the hedge, he begins to strike out at them."
"His intention is probably to show everybody who tries to nose around that the fences are not to be climbed. Let us wait for your mother, who knows all the little ways. She will tell us where to go."
Uncle Philip glanced back for his sister, who had remained behind with Mea and Bruno. While the uncle was amusing the younger ones, the two others were eagerly talking over their special problems with her, so that they got ahead very slowly.
"To which side shall we go now? As you know the way so well, please tell us where to go," said the uncle when the three had approached.
The mother replied that Uncle Philip knew the paths as well as she, if not even better. As long as the decision lay with her, however, she chose the height to the left from which there was a clear view of the castle.
"Then we'll pass by Apollonie's cottage," said Kurt. "I am glad! Then we can see what Loneli is doing after yesterday's trouble. She is the nicest child in school."
"Let us go there," the uncle assented. "I shall be glad to see my old friend Apollonie again! March ahead now!"
They had soon reached the cottage at the foot of the hill, which lay bathed in brilliant sunshine. Only the old apple-tree in the corner threw a shadow over the wooden bench beneath it and over a part of the little garden. Grandmother and grandchild were sitting on the bench dressed in their Sunday-best and with a book on their knees. A delicious perfume of rosemary and mignonette filled the air from the little flower-beds. Uncle Philip looked over the top of the hedge into the garden.
"Real Sunday peace is resting on everything here. Just look, Maxa!" he called out to his sister. "Look at the rose-hushes and the mignonette! How pleasant and charming Apollonie looks in her spotless cap and shining apron with the apple-cheeked child beside her in her pretty dress!"
Loneli had just noticed her best friends and, jumping up from the bench, she ran to them.
Apollonie, glancing up, now recognized the company, too. Radiant, she approached and invited them to step into her garden for a rest. She was already opening the door in order to fetch out enough chairs and benches to seat them all when Mrs. Maxa stopped her. She told Apollonie that their time was already very short, as they intended to climb the hill, but they had wished to greet her on their way up and to see her well-ordered garden.
"How attractively it is laid out, Mrs. Apollonie!" Uncle Philip exclaimed. "This small space is as lovely as the large castle-garden used to be. Your roses and mignonette, the cabbage, beans and beets, the little fountain in the corner are so charming! Your bench under the apple-tree looks most inviting."
"Oh, Mr. Falcon, you are still as fond of joking as ever," Apollonie returned. "So you think that my rose-beds are as fine as those up there used to be? Indeed, who has ever seen the like of them or of my wonderful vegetable garden in the castle-grounds? There has never been such an abundance of cauliflower and peas, such rows of bean-poles, such salad-beds. What a delight their care was to me. Such a garden will never be seen again. I have to sigh every time when I think that anything so beautiful should be forever lost."
"But that can't be helped," Uncle Philip answered. "There is one great advantage you have here. Nobody can possibly disturb your Sunday peace. You need not throw up your hands and exclaim: 'Falcon is the worst of all.'"
"Oh, Mr. Falcon, so you still remember," Apollonie exclaimed. "Yes, I must admit that the three young gentlemen have trampled down many a young plant of mine. Still I should not mind such a thing if I only had the care of the garden back again, but it doesn't even exist any more. Mr. Trius's only harvest is hay and apples, and that is all he wants apparently, because he has thrown everything else out. Please do not think that I am swimming in pure peace here because no boys are stamping down my garden. Oh, no! It is very difficult to read my Sunday psalm in peace when I am given such a bitter soup of grief to swallow as I got yesterday. It keeps on burning me, and still I have to swallow it."
"You probably mean the Knippel-soup from yesterday?" Kurt interrupted, full of lively interest. Loneli had only just told him that things had gone very badly the day before when she had returned home all soiled from her fall and with the empty milk-bottle. So he felt more indignant than before and had immediately interpreted Apollonie's hint. "I want to tell you, Apollonie, that it was not Loneli's fault in the least. Those rascals enjoy sticking out their feet and seeing people tumble over them."
"The child can't possibly have behaved properly, Kurt, or the district attorney's sons would not have teased her."
"I'll fetch Bruno right away and he'll prove to you that Loneli did nothing whatever. He saw it," Kurt cried eagerly with the intention of fetching his brother, who had already started up the hill. But his mother detained him. It was not her wish to fan Bruno's rage afresh by the discovery that Loneli had been considered guilty. She therefore narrated the incident to Apollonie just as Bruno had reported it.
Loneli's blue eyes glistened with joy when the story was told according to the truth. She knew that the words spoken by the rector's widow had great weight with her grandmother.
"Can you see now that it was not Loneli's fault?" Kurt cried out as soon as his mother had finished.
"Yes, I see it and I am happy that it is so," said Apollonie. "How could one have suspected that boys who had a good education should want to hurt others without cause? The young Falcon would never have done such a thing, I know that. He only ran into the vegetable garden because his two friends were chasing him from both sides."
Uncle Philip laughed: "I am glad you are so just to me, Mrs. Apollonie. Even when you scolded the Falcon properly for tramping down your plants, you knew that it was not in maliciousness he did it but in self-defence. I am afraid it is time to go now" and with these words he heartily shook his old acquaintance by the hand. The two little ones, who had never left his side, were ready immediately to strike out once more.
They soon reached the hill and the castle, which was bathed in the soft evening light, lay openly before them. A hushed silence reigned about the gray building and the old pine trees under the tower, whose branches lay trailing on the ground. For years no human hand had touched them. Where the blooming garden had been wild bushes and weeds covered the ground.
The mother and uncle, settling down on a tree-trunk, looked in silence towards the castle, while the children were hunting for strawberries on the sunny incline.
"How terribly deserted and lonely it all looks," Uncle Philip said after a while. "Let us go back. When the sun is gone, it will get more dreary still."
"Don't you notice anything, Philip?" asked his sister, taken up with her own thoughts. "Can you see that all the shutters are closed except those on the tower balcony? Don't you remember who used to live there?"
"Certainly I do. Mad Bruno used to live there," the brother answered. "As his rooms alone seem to be kept in order, he might come back?"
"Why, he'll never come back," Uncle Philip exclaimed. "You know that we heard ages ago that he is an entirely broken man and that he lay deadly sick in Malaga. Mr. Tillman, who went to Spain, must certainly know about it. Restless Baron Bruno has probably found his last resting-place long ago. Why should you look for him here?"
"I only think that in that case a new owner of the place would have turned up by now," was his sister's opinion. "Two young members of the family, the children of Salo and Eleanor, are still alive. I wonder where these children are. They would be the sole owners after their uncle's death."
"They have long ago been disinherited," the brother exclaimed. "I do not know where they are, but I have an idea on that subject. I shall tell you about it to-night when we are alone. Here you are so absent-minded. You throw worried looks in all directions as if you were afraid that this perfectly solid meadow were a dangerous pond into which your little brood might fall and lose their lives."
The children had scattered in all directions. Bruno had gone far to one side and was deeply immersed in a little book he had taken with him. Mea had discovered the most beautiful forget-me-nots she had ever seen in all her life, which grew in large masses beside the gurgling mountain stream. Beside herself with transport, she flew from place to place where the small blue flowers sparkled, for she wanted to pick them all.
Kurt had climbed a tree and from the highest branch he could reach was searchingly studying the castle, as if something special was to be discovered there. Maezli, having discovered some strawberries, had pulled Lippo along with her. She wanted him to pick those she had found while she hunted for more in the meantime. The mother was very busy keeping an eye on them all. Kurt might become too daring in his climbing feats. Maezli might run away too far and Lippo might put his strawberries into his trousers-pocket as he had done once already, and cause great harm to his little Sunday suit.
"You fuss and worry too much about the children," Uncle Philip said. "Just let the children simply grow, saying to them once in a while, 'If you don't behave, you'll be locked up.'"
"Yes, that certainly sounds simple," said his sister. "It is a pity you have no brood of your own to bring up, Philip, as lively as mine, and each child entirely different from the others, so that one has to be urged to a thing that another has to be kept from. I get the cares without looking for them. A new great worry has come to me to-day, which even you won't be able to just push aside."
Mrs. Maxa told her brother now about the morning's interview with the wife of the district attorney. She told him of the problem she had with Bruno's further education, because the lessons he had been having from the Rector would end in the fall, and of her firm intention of keeping him from living together with his two present comrades. The three had never yet come together without bringing as a result some mean deed on one side and an explosion of rage on the other.
"Don't you think, Philip, that it will be a great care for me to think that the three are living under one roof? Don't you think so yourself?" Mrs. Maxa concluded.
"Oh, Maxa, that is an old story. There have been boys at all times who fought together and then made peace again."
"Philip, that does not console me," the sister answered. "That has never been Bruno's way at all. He never fights that way. But it is hard to tell what he might do in a fit of anger at some injustice or meanness, and that is what frightens me so."
"His godfather of the same name has probably passed that on to him. Nobody more than you, Maxa, has always tried to wash him clean and excuse him for all his deeds of anger. In your indestructible admiration ..."
Uncle Philip got no further, as all the children now came running toward them. The two little ones both tried hard to put the biggest strawberries they had found into the mouths of their mother and uncle. Mea could not hold her magnificent bunch of forget-me-nots near enough to their eyes to be admired. The two older boys had approached, too, as they had an announcement to make. The sun had gone down behind the mountain, so they had remembered that it was time to go home.
Mother and uncle rose from their seats and the whole group started down the mountainside. The two little ones were gaily trotting beside the uncle, bursting into wild shouting now and then, for he made such leaps that they flew high into the air sometimes. He held them so firmly, however, that they always reached the ground safely.
At the entrance to the house Kurt had a brilliant idea. "Oh, mother," he called out excitedly over the prospect, "tonight we must have the story of the Wallerstaetten family. It will fit so well because we were able to see the castle today, with all its gables, embrasures and battlements."
But the mother answered: "I am sorry to say we can't. Uncle is here today, and as he has to leave early tomorrow morning, I have to talk to him tonight. You have to go to bed early, otherwise you will be too tired to get up tomorrow after your long walk."
"Oh, what a shame, what a shame!" Kurt lamented. He was still hoping that he would find out something in the story about the ghost of Wildenstein, despite the fact that one could not really believe in him. Sitting on the tree that afternoon, he had been lost in speculations as to where the ghost might have appeared.
When the mother went to Maezli's bed that night to say prayers with her she found her still very much excited, as usual, by the happenings of the day. She always found it difficult to quiet the little girl, but to-day she seemed filled by very vivid impressions. Now that everything was still, they seemed to come back to her.
Maezli sat straight up in her bed with shining eyes as soon as her mother appeared. "Why was the Knippel-soup allowed to spoil Apollonie's Sunday peace?" she cried out.
"Where have you heard that, Maezli?" the mother said, quite frightened. She already saw the moment before her when Maezli would tell the district attorney's wife that new appellation. "You must never use that expression any more, Maezli. You see, nobody would be able to know what you mean. Kurt invented it apparently when Apollonie spoke about having so much to swallow. He should not have said it. Do you understand, Maezli, that you must not say it any more?"
"Yes, but why is anyone allowed to spoil Apollonie's Sunday peace?" Maezli persevered. Apollonie was her special friend, whom she wanted to keep from harm.
"No one should do it, Maezli," the mother replied. It is wrong to spoil anybody's Sunday peace and no one should do it."
"But our good God should quickly call down, 'Don't do it, don't do it!' Then they would know that they were not allowed," was Maezli's opinion.
"He does it, Maezli! He does it every time anybody does wrong," said the mother, "for the evil-doer always hears such a voice that calls out to him: 'Don't do it, don't do it!' But sometimes he does it in spite of the voice. Even young children like you, Maezli, hear the voice when they feel like doing wrong, and they do wrong just the same."
"I only wonder why God does not punish them right away; He ought to do that," Maezli eagerly replied.
"But He does," said the mother. As soon as anybody has done wrong, he feels a great weight on his heart so that he keeps on thinking, 'I wish I hadn't done it!' Then our good God is good and merciful to him and does not punish him further. He gives him plenty of time to come to Him and tell Him how sorry he is to have done wrong. God gives him the chance to beg His pardon. But if he does not do that, he is sure to be punished so that he will do more and more evil and become more terribly unhappy all the time."
"I'll look out, too, now if I can hear the voice," was Maezli's resolution.
"The chief thing is to follow the voice, Maezli," said the mother. "But we must be quiet now. Say your prayers, darling, then you will soon go to sleep."
Maezli said her little prayer very devoutly. As there was nothing more to trouble her, she lay down and was half asleep as soon as her mother closed the door behind her.
She was still expected at four other little beds. Every one of the children had a problem to bring to her, but there was so little time left to-day that they had to be put off till to-morrow. In fact, they were all glad to make a little sacrifice for their beloved uncle. When she came back into the room, she found him hurrying impatiently up and down. He could hardly wait to make his sister the announcement to which he had already referred several times.
"Are you coming at last?" he called to her. "Are you not a bit curious what present I have brought you?"
"Oh, Philip, I am sure it can only be a joke," Mrs. Maxa replied. "I should love to know what you meant when you spoke of the children of Wallerstaetten."
"It happens to be one and the same thing," the brother replied. "Come here now and sit down beside me and get your mending-basket right away so that you won't have to jump up again. I know you. You will probably run off two or three times to the children."
"No, Philip, to-day is Sunday and I won't mend. The children are all sleeping peacefully, so please tell me about it."
Uncle Philip sat down quietly beside his sister and began: "As surely as I am now sitting here beside you, Maxa, so surely young Leonore of Wallerstaetten was sitting beside me three days ago. I am really as sure as anything that it was Leonore's child. She is only an hour's distance away from you and is probably going to stay in this neighborhood for a few weeks. I wanted to bring you this news as a present."
Mrs. Maxa first could not say a word from astonishment.
"Are you quite sure, Philip?" she asked, wishing for an affirmation. "How could you become so sure that the child you saw was Leonore's little daughter?"
"First of all, because nobody who has known Leonore can ever forget what she looked like. The child is exactly like her and looks at one just the way Leonore used to do. Secondly, the child's name was Leonore, too. Thirdly, she had the same brown curls rippling down her shoulders that her mother had, and she spoke with a voice as soft and charming. For the fifth and sixth reasons, because only Leonore could have such a child, for there could not be two people like her in the whole world." Uncle Philip had grown very warm during these ardent proofs.
"Please tell me exactly where and how you saw the child," the sister urged.
So the brother related how he had come back three days ago from a trip and, arriving in town, had given orders in the hotel for a carriage to be brought round to take him back to Sils that same evening. The host had then informed him that two ladies had just ordered a carriage to take them to the same destination. He thought that as long as they had seemed to be strangers and were anxious to know more about the road, they would be very glad to have a companion who was going the same way. So the host had made all necessary arrangements, as there were no objections to the plan on either side. When the carriage had driven up, he had seen that the ladies had with them a little daughter who was to occupy the back-seat of the carriage.
"This daughter, as I thought, was Leonore's child. I am as certain of that as of my relation with you," the brother concluded.
Mrs. Maxa was filled with great excitement.
Could one of the children for whom she had vainly longed and inquired for such long years be really so near her? Would she be able to see her? Who were the ladies to whom she belonged?
To all her various questions the brother could only answer that the ladies with whom Leonore was living came from the neighborhood of Hannover. They had taken a little villa in Sils on the mountain, which they had seen advertised for the summer months. He had shown the ladies his estate in Sils and had offered to serve them in whatever way they wished. Then they had taken leave.
Leonore's name had wakened so many happy memories of her beautiful childhood and youth in Mrs. Maxa that she began to revive those times with her brother and tirelessly talked of the days they had spent there together with her unforgettable friend Leonore and her two cousins. The brother seemed just as ready to indulge in those delightful memories as she was, and whenever she ceased, he began again to talk of all the unusual happenings and exploits that had taken place with their dear friends.
"Do you know, Maxa, I think we had much better playmates than your children have," he said finally. "If Bruno beats his comrades, I like it better than if he acted as they do."
Brother and sister had not talked so far into the night for a long time. Nevertheless, Mrs. Maxa could not get to sleep for hours afterwards. Leonore's image with the long, brown curls and the winning expression in her eyes woke her lively desire to see the child that resembled her so much.
When Maezli and Lippo were neatly washed and dressed the next morning, they came downstairs to the living-room chattering in the most lively manner. Maezli was just telling Lippo her plans for the afternoon when he should be back from school. The mother, after attending to some task, followed the children, who were standing around the piano.
As soon as she entered, Kurt broke out into a frightened cry. "Oh, mother, we have forgotten all about the poor people whose houses burnt down and we were supposed to take the things with us this morning."
"Yes, the teacher told us twice that we must not forget it," Lippo complained, "but I didn't forget it."
"Don't worry, children, I have attended to it," said the mother. "Kathy has just gone to the school with a basket full of things. It was too heavy for you to carry."
"Oh, how nice and convenient it is to have a mother," Kurt said quite relieved.
The mother sat down at the piano.
"Come, let us sing our morning song, now," she said. "We can't wait for uncle, because he might come back too late from his walk." Opening the book, she began to sing "The golden sun—with joy and fun."
The children taking up the melody sang it briskly, for they knew it well. Maezli was singing full of zeal, too, and wherever she had forgotten the words, she did not stop, but made up some of her own.
Two stanzas had been sung when Kurt said, "We must stop now or it will get too late. After breakfast it is time to go to school."
The mother, assenting, rose and went to the table to fill their cups.
But Lippo broke into a loud wail. Pulling his mother back, he cried, "Don't go! Please don't! We must finish it. We have to finish it. Come back, mother, come back."
She tried to loosen the grip of the boy's firm little fingers on her dress and to calm him, but she did not succeed, and he kept on crying louder and louder: "Come back! You said one must not leave anything half done. We didn't finish the song and we must do it."
Kurt now began to cry out, too: "Let go your pincher-claws—we'll get to school late."
Mea's voice joined them with loud exclamation against Lippo, who was trying hard to pull his mother back, groaning loudly all the time.
Uncle Philip entered at this moment.
"What on earth is going on here?" he cried loudly into the confusion.
Everybody began to explain.
Lippo let go his grip at last and, approaching his uncle, solicited his help. Kurt's voice, however, was the loudest and he got the lead in telling about Lippo's obstinacy.
"Lippo is right," the uncle decided. "One must finish what one has begun. This is a splendid principle and ought to be followed. Lippo has inherited this from his god-father and so he shall also have his help. Come Lippo, we'll sit down and finish the song to the last word."
"But, Uncle Philip, the song has twelve stanzas, and we have to go to school. Lippo must go, too," Kurt cried out in great agitation. "He can't get an excuse for saying that he had to finish his morning song."
"That is true, Kurt is right," said the uncle. "You see, Lippo, I know a way out. When you sing to-night, mother must promise me to finish the song. Then you will have sung it to the end."
"We can't do that," Lippo wailed. "This is a morning song and we can't sing it at night. We must finish it now. Wait, Kurt!" he cried aloud, when he saw that the boy was taking up his school-bag.
"What can we do? Where is your mother? Why does she run away at such a moment?" Uncle Philip cried out helplessly. "Call for your mother! You mustn't go on like that."
Lippo had run back to the piano and, leaning against it, was crying bitterly. Kurt, after opening the door, called loudly for his mother in a voice that was meant to bring her from a distance. This exertion proved unnecessary, as she was standing immediately behind the door. Bruno, in order to question her about something, had drawn her out with him.
"Oh, mother, come in!" Kurt cried in milder accents. "Come and teach our two-legged law-paragraph here to get some sense. School is going to start in five minutes."
The mother entered.
"Maxa, where did you go?" the brother accosted her. "It is high time to get this boy straightened out. Just look at the way he is clutching the piano in his trouble. He ought to be off. Kurt is right."
The mother, sitting down on the piano-stool, took the little boy's hand and pulled him towards her.
"Come, Lippo, there is nothing to cry about," she said calmly. "Listen while I explain this. It is a splendid thing to finish anything one has begun, but there are things that cannot be finished all at once. Then one divides these things into separate parts and finishes part first with the resolution to do another part the next day, and so on till it is done. We shall say now our song has twelve stanzas and we'll sing two of them every morning; in that way we can finish it on the sixth day and we have not left it unfinished at all. Can you understand, Lippo? Are you quiet now?"
"Yes," said the little boy, looking up to his mother with an expression of perfect satisfaction.
The leave-taking from the uncle had to be cut extremely short. "Come soon again," sounded three times more from the steps, and then the children started off.
The mother, looking through the window, followed them with her eyes. She was afraid that Kurt and Mea would leave the little one far behind on account of having been kept too long already, and it happened as she feared. She saw Lippo trudging on behind with an extraordinarily full school-bag on his back.
"Can you see what Lippo is carrying?" she asked her brother.
The lid of the bag was thrust open and a thick unwieldy object which did not fit into it was protruding.
"What is he carrying along, I wonder? Can you see what it is?"
"I can only see a round object wrapped up in a gray paper," her brother replied. "I am sure it must be something harmless. I have to say that Lippo is a wonderfully obedient and good boy and full of the best sense. As soon as one says the right word to him, he comes 'round. Why did you wait so long though, Maxa, before saying it to him?" was Uncle Philip's rather reproachful question. "Why did you run away and leave him crying and moaning? He needed your help. What he wanted was perfectly correct but was not just suitable at that moment, and he needed an explanation. How could you calmly run away?"
"It was just as necessary to hear Bruno's question," the sister said. "I knew that Lippo was in good hands. I thought naturally that you would be able to say the right word to him. You know yourself how he respects you."
"Oh, yes, that is right," Uncle Philip admitted. "It is not always easy to say the right word to a little fellow who has the right on his side and needs to have the other side shown to him, too; he is terribly pedantic besides, and says that one can't sing a morning song in the evening, and when he began to wail in his helplessness, it made me miserable. How should one always just be able to say the right word?"
His sister smiled.
"Do you admit now, Philip, that bringing up children is not a very simple matter?"
"There is a truth in what you say. On the other hand, it does not look very terrible, either," the brother said with a glance at Maezli, who was quietly and peacefully sitting at the table, eating her bread and milk in the most orderly fashion.
She had been compelled to stop in the middle of breakfast by the excitement caused by Lippo. It had been very thrilling, but now she could calmly finish.
Uncle Philip suddenly discovered that the tune set for his departure was already past. Taking a rapid leave of his sister, he started to rush off, but she held him for a moment.
"Please, Philip, try to find out for me about the little girl, to whom she belongs, and with whom she is travelling," she begged him eagerly. "Please do that for me! If your supposition, that she is Leonore's child is right, I simply must see her. Nobody can prevent me from seeing her once at least."
"We'll see, we'll see," the brother answered hurriedly, and was gone the next moment.
The day had started with so much agitation and it had all taken so much time that Mrs. Maxa had her hands full now in order to complete the most necessary tasks before the children came back from school.
Maezli was very obedient to-day and had settled down on her little chair. She was virtuously knitting on a white rag, which was to receive a bright red border and was destined to dust Uncle Philip's desk. It was to be presented to him on his next birthday as a great surprise. Maezli had in her head this and many other thoughts caused by the morning's scene, so she did not feel the same inclination to set out on trips of discovery as usual, and remained quietly sitting on her chair. Her mother was extremely preoccupied, as could easily be seen. Her thoughts had nothing to do with either the laundry or the orders she was giving to Kathy, nor the cooking apples she had sorted out in the cellar. Her hand often lay immovably on these, while she absently looked in front of her. Her thoughts were up in the castle-garden with the lovely young Leonore, and in her imagination she was wandering about with her beloved friend, singing and chattering under the sounding pine trees.
Her brother's news had wakened all these memories very vividly. Then again she would sigh deeply and another communication filled her full of anxiety. Bruno had asked her not to wait for him at dinner, as he had resolved to stop his comrades from a wicked design and therefore would surely be a trifle late. What this was and what action he meant to prevent the boy had not had time to say, for Kurt had opened the door at that moment calling for her with his voice of thunder. All she had been able to do was to beg Bruno, whatever happened, not to let his anger become his master. Sooner than the mother had expected Kurt's steps could be heard hurriedly running into the house followed by a loud call for her.
"Here I am, Kurt," sounded calmly from the living-room, where his mother had finally settled down after her tasks, beside Maezli's chair. "Come in first before you try to make your announcements; or is it so dreadfully urgent?"
Kurt had already reached his mother's side.
"Oh, mother, when I come home from school I'm never sure if you are in the top or the bottom of the house," he said, "so I have to inquire in plenty of time, especially when there is so much to tell you as there is to-day. Now listen. First of all, the teacher thanks you for the presents for the poor people. He lets you know that if you think it suitable to send them a helmet of cardboard with a red plume, he will put it by for the present. Or did you have a special intention with it?"
"I do not understand a word of what you say, Kurt," the mother replied.
That moment Lippo opened the door. He was apt to come home after the older boy, for Kurt was not obliged to wait for him after school.
"Here comes the one who will be able to explain the precious gift you sent, mother," said Kurt.
Lippo, trotting cheerfully into the room, had bright red cheeks from his walk. The mother began by asking, "Tell me, Lippo, did you take something to school this morning in your school-bag for the poor people whose houses were burnt?"
"Yes, mother, my helmet from Uncle Philip," Lippo answered.
"I see! You thought that if a poor little chap had no shirt, he would be glad to get a fine helmet with a plume for his head," Kurt said laughing.
"You don't need to laugh!" Lippo said, a little hurt. "Mother told us that we must not only send things we don't want any more. So I gave the helmet away and I should have loved to keep it."
"Don't laugh at him, Kurt; I really told him that," the mother affirmed. "He wanted to do right but he did not quite find the right way of doing it. If you had told me your intention, Lippo, I could have helped you to do some positive good. Next time you want to help, tell me about it, and we'll do it together."
"Yes, I will," Lippo said, quite appeased.
"Oh, mother, listen!" Kurt was continuing. "I have to tell you something you won't like and we don't like either. Just think! Loneli had to sit on the shame-bench to-day. But all the class is on Loneli's side."
"But why, Kurt? The poor child!" the mother exclaimed. "What did she do? I am afraid that her honest old grandmother will take it terribly to heart. She'll be in deep sorrow about it and will probably punish Loneli again."
"No, indeed, she must not do that," Kurt said eagerly. "The teacher said himself that he hated to put Loneli there, as she was a good and obedient child, but that he had to keep his word. He had announced that he was tired of the constant chattering going on in the school. To stop it he had threatened to put the first child on the shame-bench that was caught. So poor Loneli had to sit there all by herself and she cried so terribly that we all felt sorry. But of course, mother, a person doesn't talk alone, and Loneli should not have been obliged to stay there alone. The teacher had just asked: 'Who is talking over there? I can hear some whispering. Who is it?' Loneli answered 'I' in a low voice, so she had to be punished. One of her neighbors should have said 'I,' too, of course; it was perfectly evident that there was another one."
"Loneli might have asked somebody a question which was not answered," his mother suggested.
"Mea will know all about it, for she followed Loneli after school. Now more still, mother," Kurt continued. "Two boys from my class were beaten this morning by Mr. Trius. Early this morning they had climbed over the castle hedge to inspect the apples on the other side of the hedge. But Mr. Trius was already about and stood suddenly before them with his heavy stick. In a jiffy they had a real Trius-beating, for the hedge is high and firm and one can't get across it quickly. Now for my fourth piece of news. Farmer Max who lives behind the castle has told everybody that when his father came back late yesterday night from the cattle-fair in the valley, he saw a large coach, which was right behind his own, drive into the castle-garden. He was quite certain that it went there, but nobody seems to know who was in it. So you are really listening at last, mother! I noticed that you have been absentminded till now. Farmer Max told us something else about his father that you wouldn't like me to repeat, I know."
"You would not say so if it were not wrong; you had better not repeat it, Kurt," said the mother.
"No, indeed, it is not bad, but very strange. I can tell you though, because I don't believe it myself. Max told that his father said there was something wrong about the coach and that he went far out of its way. The coachman looked as if he only had half a head, and his coat-collar was rolled up terribly high in order to hide what was below. He was wildly beating the horses so that they fairly flew up the castle-hill, while sparks of fire were flying from their hoofs."
"How can you tell such rubbish, Kurt? How should there be something unnatural in such a sight?" the mother scolded him. "I am sure you think that the Wildenstein ghost is wandering about again. You can see every day that horses' hoofs give out sparks when they strike stone, and to see a coachman with a rolled up collar in windy weather is not an unusual sight either. In spite of all I say to you, Kurt, you seem to do nothing but occupy yourself with this matter. Can't you let the foolish people talk without repeating it all the time?"
Kurt was very glad when Mea entered at that moment, for he had really disobeyed his mother's repeated instructions in the matter. But he comforted himself with the thought that he was only acting according to her ideas if he was finally able to prove to the people that the whole thing was a pure invention and could get rid of the whole thing for good.
"Why are your eyes all swollen?" he accosted his sister.
Mea exploded now. Half angry and half complaining, she still had to fight against her tears. "Oh, mother, if you only knew how difficult it is to stay friends with Elvira. Whenever I do anything to offend her, she sulks and won't have anything to do with me for days. When I want to tell her something and run towards her, speaking a little hurriedly, she is hurt. Then she always says I spoil the flowers on her hat because I shake them. And then she turns her back on me and won't even speak to me."
"Indeed! I have seen that long ago," Kurt broke in, "and I began a song about her yesterday. It ought to be sung to her. I'll recite it to you:
A SONG ABOUT A WELL KNOWN YOUNG LADY.
I know a maiden fair of face, Who mostly turns her back. All noise she thinks a great disgrace, But tricks she does not lack.
"No, Kurt, you mustn't go on with that song," Mea cried with indignation.
"Mea is right when she doesn't want you to celebrate her friends in that way, Kurt," said the mother, "and if she asks you to, you must leave off."
"But I am her brother and I do not wish to see my sister being tyranized over and treated badly by a friend. I certainly wouldn't call her a real friend," Kurt eagerly exclaimed. "I should be only too glad if my song made her so angry that she would break the friendship entirely. There would be nothing to mourn over."