UNCLE TITUS AND HIS VISIT TO THE COUNTRY
A Story for Children and for Those Who Love Children
Translated from the German of
Boston De Wolfe, Fiske & Co 361 and 365 Washington Street
I. UNDER THE LINDENS
II. LONG, LONG DAYS
III. ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE HEDGE
IV. ALL SIX
V. BEFORE AND AFTER THE FLOOD
VI. A FRIGHTFUL DEED
VII. LONG-WISHED-FOR HAPPINESS
VIII. MORE CHARADES AND THEIR ANSWERS
IX. "WHAT MUST BE, MUST BE"
UNDER THE LINDENS.
The daily promenaders who moved slowly back and forth every afternoon under the shade of the lindens on the eastern side of the pretty town of Karlsruhe were very much interested in the appearance of two persons who had lately joined their ranks. It was beyond doubt that the man was very ill. He could only move slowly and it was touching to see the care with which his little companion tried to make herself useful to him. He supported himself with his right hand on a stout stick, and rested his left upon the shoulder of the child at his side, and one could see that he needed the assistance of both. From time to time he would lift his left hand and say gently,
"Tell me, my child, if I press too heavily upon you."
Instantly, however, the child would catch his hand and press it down again, assuring him,
"No, no, certainly not, Papa, lean upon me still more: I do not even notice it at all."
After they had walked back and forth for a while, they seated themselves upon one of the benches that were placed at convenient distances under the trees, and rested a little.
The sick man was Major Falk, who had been in Karlsruhe only a short time. He lived before that in Hamburg with his daughter Dora, whose mother died soon after the little girl came into the world, so that Dora had never known any parent but her father. Naturally, therefore, the child's whole affection was centred upon Major Falk, who had always devoted himself to his little motherless girl with such tenderness that she had scarcely felt the want of a mother, until the war with France broke out, and he was obliged to go with the Army. He was away for a long time, and when at last he returned, it was with a dangerous wound in his breast. The Major had no near relatives in Hamburg, and he therefore lived a very retired life with his little daughter as his only companion, but in Karlsruhe he had an elder half-sister, married to a literary man, Mr. Titus Ehrenreich.
When Major Falk was fully convinced that his wound was incurable, he decided to remove to Karlsruhe, in order not to be quite without help when his increasing illness should make it necessary for him to have some aid in the care of his eleven-year-old daughter. It did not take long to make the move. He rented a few rooms in the neighborhood of his sister, and spent the warm spring afternoons enjoying his regular walk under the shade of the lindens with his little daughter as his supporter and loving companion.
When he grew weary of walking and they sat down on a bench to rest, the Major had always some interesting story to tell, to beguile the time, and Dora was certain that no one in the whole world could tell such delightful stories as her father, who was indeed in her opinion the most agreeable and lovable of men. Her favorite tales, and those which the Major himself took most pleasure in relating, were little incidents in the life of Dora's mother, who was now is heaven. He loved to tell the child how affectionate and happy her mother had always been, and how many friends she had won for herself, and how she always brought sunshine with her wherever she went, and how nobody ever saw her who did not feel at once attracted to her, and how she was even now remembered by those who had known and loved her during life.
When Major Falk once began to talk about his dearly-beloved wife, he was apt to forget the flight of time, and often the cool evening wind first aroused him with its chilly breath to the fact that he was lingering too long in the outer air. Then he and his little Dora would rise from the bench in the shade of the lindens, and slowly wander back into town, until they stopped before a many-storied house in a narrow street, and the Major would generally say,
"We must go up to see Uncle Titus and Aunt Ninette this afternoon, Dora." And as they slowly climbed the steep staircase, he would add, "Softly now, little Dora, you know your Uncle is always writing very learned books, and we must not disturb him by any unnecessary noise, and indeed, Dora, I do not think your Aunt is any more fond of noise than he is."
So Dora went up upon the tips of her toes as quietly as a mouse, and the Major's ring could scarcely be heard, he pulled the bell so gently! Generally Aunt Ninette opened the door herself, saying,
"Come in, come in, dear brother! Very softly, if you please, for you know your brother-in-law is busy at work."
So the three moved noiselessly along the corridor and crept into the sitting room. Uncle Titus' study was the very next room, so that the conversation was carried on almost in whispers, but it must be said Major Falk was less liable to forget the necessary caution against disturbing the learned writer than Aunt Ninette herself, for that lady being oppressed with many cares and troubles had always to break into frequent lamentation.
When June came, it was safe and pleasant to linger late under the shade of the lindens, but the pair in whom we are interested often turned their steps homeward earlier than they wished, in order not to arouse Aunt Ninette's ever-ready reproaches. But one warm evening when the sky was covered with rosy and golden sunset clouds, the Major and Dora lingered watching the lovely sight longer than was their wont. They sat silent hand in hand on the bench by the side of the promenade, and Dora could not take her eyes from her father's face as he sat with upturned look gazing into the sky. At last she exclaimed:
"I wish you could see yourself, papa, you look all golden and beautiful. I am sure the angels in heaven look just as you do now."
Her father smiled. "It will soon pass away from me, Dora, but I can imagine your mother standing behind those lovely clouds and smiling down upon us with this golden glory always upon her face."
As the Major said, it did pass away very soon; his face grew pale, and shone no longer; the golden light faded from the sky and the shades of night stole on. The Major rose, and Dora followed him rather sadly. The beautiful illumination had passed too quickly.
"We shall stand again in this glory, my child, nay, in a far more beautiful one," said her father consolingly, "when we are all together again, your mother and you and I, where there will be no more parting and the glory will be everlasting."
As they climbed up the high staircase to say good night to Uncle and Aunt, the latter awaited them on the landing, making all sorts of silent signs of alarm and distress, but she did not utter a sound until she had them safely within the sitting room. Then, having softly closed the door, she broke forth complainingly,
"How can you make me so uneasy, dear brother? I have been dreadfully anxious about you. I imagined all kinds of shocking accidents that might have happened, and made you so late in returning home! How can you be so heedless as to forget that it is not safe for you to stay out after sunset. Now I am sure that you have taken cold. And what will happen, who can tell? Something dreadful, I am certain."
"Calm yourself, I beg you, dear Ninette," said the Major soothingly, as soon as he could get in a word. "The air is so mild, so very warm, that it could not possibly harm anybody, and the evening was glorious, perfectly wonderful. Let me enjoy these lovely summer evenings on earth as long as I can; it will not be very long at the farthest. What is sure to come, can be neither delayed nor hastened much by anything I may do."
These words, however, although they were spoken in the quietest possible tone, called forth another torrent of reproach and lamentation.
"How can you allow yourself to speak in that way? How can you say such dreadful things?" cried the excited woman over and over again. "It will not happen. What will become of us all; what will become of—you know what I mean," and she cast a meaning glance at Dora. "No, Karl, it would be more than I could bear, and we never have more trouble sent to us than we can bear; I do not know how I should live; I could not possibly endure it."
"My dear Ninette" said her brother quietly, "Do not forget one thing,
"'Thou art not in command, Thou canst not shape the end; God holds us in his hand: God knows the best to send.'"
"Oh, of course, I know all that well enough. I know that is all true," assented Aunt Ninette, "but when one cannot see the end nor the help, it is enough to kill one with anxiety. And then you have such a way of speaking of terrible things as if they were certain to come, and I cannot bear it, I tell you; I cannot."
"Now we will say good-night and not stand and dispute any longer, my dear sister," said the Major, holding out his hand, "we will both try to remember the words of the verse—'God knows the best to send.'"
"Yes, yes, I'll remember. Only don't take cold going across the street, and step very softly as you go down the stairs, and Dora, do you hear! Close the door very gently, and Karl, be careful of the draught, as you cross the street!"
While the good irritating Aunt was calling after them all these unnecessary cautions, Dora and her father had gone down the stairs and had softly closed the house-door. They had only a narrow alley to cross to reach their own rooms opposite.
The next afternoon, as Dora and her father seated themselves on their favorite bench under the lindens, the child asked,
"Papa, is it possible that Aunt Ninette never knew the verse you repeated to her last night?"
"Oh yes, my child, she has always known the lines," replied the Major. "It is only for the moment that your good aunt allows herself to be so overwhelmed with care and worry as to forget who governs all wisely. She is a good woman, and in her heart she places her trust in God's goodness. She soon comes to herself again."
Dora was silent for a while, and then she said thoughtfully,
"Papa, how can we help being 'overwhelmed with care and worry?' and 'killed with anxiety,' as Aunt Ninette said."
"By always remembering that everything comes to us from the good God, my dear child. When we are happy, we must think of Him and thank Him; when sorrow comes we must not be frightened and distressed, for we know that the good God sends it, and that it will be for our good. So we shall never be 'overwhelmed with care and worry,' for even when some bitter trouble comes, in which we can see no help nor escape, we know that God can bring good out of what seems to us wholly evil. Will you try to think of this, my child? for sorrow comes to all, and you will not escape it more than another. But God will help you if you put your trust in Him."
"Yes, I understand you, papa, and I will try to do as you say. It is far better to trust in God, than to let one's self be overwhelmed with care and worry.'"
"But we must not forget," continued her father, after a pause, "that we must not only think of God, when something special happens, but in everything that we do, we must strive to act according to His holy will. If we never think of Him, except when we are unhappy, we shall not then be able easily to find the way to him, and that is the greatest grief of all."
Dora repeated that she would ask God to keep her in the right way, and as she spoke, her father softly stroked her hand, as it lay in his. He did not speak again for a long time, but his eyes rested so lovingly and protectingly on his little girl, that she felt as if folded in a tender and strengthening embrace.
The sun sank in golden radiance behind the green lindens, and slowly the father and child wended their way towards the high house in the narrow street.
LONG, LONG DAYS.
It was not many days after the events mentioned in the last chapter. Dora sat by her father's bedside, her head buried in the pillows, vainly striving to choke down her tears and sobs. It seemed as if her heart must break. The Major lay back on his pillow, white and still, with a peaceful smile on his calm face. Dora could not understand it, could not take it in, but she knew it. Her father was gone to join her mother in heaven.
In the morning her father had not come as usual to her bedside to awaken her, so when at last she opened her eyes, she went to seek him, and she found him still in bed, and lying so quiet that she seated herself quite softly by his side, that she might not disturb him.
Presently the servant came up with the breakfast, and looking through the open door into the bed-room where Dora sat by her father's bed-side, she called out in terror,
"Oh God, he is dead! I will call your aunt, child," and hurried away.
Dora's heart seemed cut in two by these words. She put her head upon the pillow and sobbed and wept. Presently she heard her aunt come into the room, and she raised her head and tried to control herself, for she dreaded the scene that she knew was coming. And it came—cries and sobs, loud groans and lamentations. Aunt Ninette declared that she could never bear this terrible blow; she did not know which way to turn, nor what to do first.
In the open drawer of the table by the side of the bed, lay several papers, and as she laid them together, meaning to lock them up, she saw a letter addressed to herself. She opened it and read as follows:
"Dear Sister Ninette,
"I feel that I shall shall soon leave you, but I will not talk to you about it, for the sad time will come only too quickly. One only wish that I have greatly at heart I now lay before you, and that is, that you will take my child under your protection for as long as she may need your care. I shall leave very little money behind me, but I beg you to employ this little in teaching Dora something that will enable her, with God's help, to support herself when she is old enough.
"Do not, my dear sister, give way to your grief; try to believe as I believe, that God will always take our children under his care, when we are obliged to leave them and can no longer provide for them ourselves. Receive my heartfelt thanks for all the kindness you have shown to me and my child. God will reward you for it all."
Aunt Ninette read and re-read these touching lines, and could not help growing calmer as she read. She turned to the silently weeping Dora with these words,
"Come, my child, your home henceforth will be with us. You and I will try to remember that all is well with your father; otherwise we shall break down under our sorrow."
Dora arose at once and prepared to follow her aunt, but her heart was heavy within her; she felt as if all was over and she could not live much longer.
As she came up the stairs behind her aunt, Aunt Ninette omitted for the first time to caution her to step lightly, and indeed there was no need now of the usual warning when they approached Uncle Titus' room, for the little girl was so sad, so weighed down with her sorrow as she entered her new home, that it seemed as if she could never again utter a sound of childish merriment.
A little room under the roof, hitherto used as a store-room, was changed into a bed-room for Dora, though not without some complainings from Aunt Ninette. However, the furniture was brought over from the Major's rooms, and after a slight delay, all was comfortably arranged for the child.
When supper-time came, Dora followed her aunt, without a word, into the dining-room, where they were joined by Uncle Titus, who however seldom spoke, so deeply was he absorbed in his own thoughts. After supper, Dora went up to her little room under the roof, and with her face buried in her pillow, cried herself softly to sleep.
On the following morning she begged to be allowed to go over to look once again at her father, and after some objection, her aunt agreed to go with her, and they crossed the narrow street.
Dora took a silent farewell of her dear father, weeping all the time but making no disturbance. Only when she again reached her little bed-room, did she at last give way to her sobs without restraint, for she knew that soon her good father would be carried away, and that she could never, never see him again on earth.
And now began a new order of life for Dora. She had not been to school, during the short time that she and her father had lived together in Karlsruhe. Her father went over with her the lessons she had learned in Hamburg, but he did not seem to care to begin any new study, preferring to leave everything for her aunt to arrange.
It happened that one of Aunt Ninette's friends was the teacher of a private school for girls, so that it was soon settled that Dora was to go to her every morning to learn what she could. Also a seamstress was engaged to teach her the art of shirt-making in the afternoon, for it was a theory of Aunt Ninette's that the construction of shirts of all kinds was a most useful branch of knowledge, and she proposed that Dora should learn this art, with a view of being able to support herself with her needle. She argued that since the shirt is the first garment to be put on in dressing, it should be the first that one should learn to make, and with this as a foundation, Dora could go on through the whole art of sewing, till in time she might even arrive at the mighty feat of making dresses! With which achievement Aunt Ninette would feel more than satisfied, but this great end would never be reached, unless the first steps were taken in the right direction.
So every morning Dora sat on the school-bench studying diligently, and every afternoon on a little chair close to the seamstress' knee, sewing on a big shirt that made her very warm and uncomfortable.
The mornings were not unpleasant; for she was in the company of other children who were all studying, and Dora was ambitious and willing to learn. So the hours flew quickly, for she was too busy to dwell much on the loss of her dear father, and to think that he was gone forever. But the afternoons were truly dreadful. She must sit through the long hot hours, close by the seamstress, almost smothered by the big piece of cotton cloth, which her little fingers could hardly manage, and she grew restless and irritable, for her hands were moist, and the needle refused to be driven through the thick cloth. How often she glanced up at the clock on the wall during those long hours, when the minute hand was surely stuck at half-past three, and the regular tic-tac seemed to fill the quiet room with its sleepy droning. So hot, so still, so long were the hours of those summer afternoons!
The silence was broken now and then by the sounds of a distant piano. "What a happy child that must be!" thought little Dora, "who can sit at the piano and practise exercises, and all sorts of pretty tunes!" She could think of nothing more delightful; she listened with hungry ears, and drank in every note that reached her. In the narrow street where the seamstress lived she could hear the music distinctly, for no wagons passed, and the voices of foot-passengers did not reach up so high as to her room. So Dora listened to the sweet melodies which were her only refreshment during those hot long hours, and even the running scales were a pleasure to her ear. But then the thought of her father came back to her, and she felt bitterly the terrible contrast between these hot lonely afternoons and those which she used to spend with him under the cool shade of the lindens. Then she thought of that glorious sunset, and of her father, as he stood transfigured in the golden light. She remembered his comforting words, his assurance that some day they two and the mother would stand thus together, shining in the eternal light of Heaven. But Dora sighed at the thought of the long weary time before she should join them, unless indeed some accident should happen to her, or she should fall ill and die, from this too heavy task of shirt-making. After all, her best consolation was her father's verse; and then too, he had been so sure of its truth:
"God holds us in his hand, God knows the best to send."
She believed it too; and as she repeated the lines to herself, her heart grew lighter, and even her needle moved more easily, as if inspired by the cheering thoughts. Yet the days were long and wearisome, and their stillness followed her when she went home to her uncle and aunt.
She reached home just in time for supper. Uncle Titus always held the newspaper before his face, and read and ate behind its ample shelter. Aunt Ninette spoke in whispers all the while, and asked only the most necessary questions, in order not to disturb her husband. Dora said little; and less every day, as she grew accustomed to this silent life. Even when she came home from school at noon for the short interval before the time for her sewing lessons, there was no need to caution her against noise; for the child moved ever less and less like a living being, and grew more like a shadow day by day.
Yet by nature she was a lively little maiden, and took so keen an interest in all about her, that her father often used joyfully to observe it, saying,
"That child is exactly like her dear mother; just the same movements, the same indomitable spirit and enjoyment of life!"
But now all this vivacity seemed extinguished. Dora was very careful never to provoke her aunt to complaints, which she dreaded exceedingly. Yet for all her pains it would happen sometimes, most unexpectedly and when she was least looking for a storm, that one would break over her head, and frighten all her thoughts and words back into her childish heart; nay, almost check the flow of youth in her veins.
One evening, she came home from her work filled with enthusiasm, by a song she had been listening to, played by her unseen musician. Dora knew the words well:
"Live your life merrily While the lamp glows, Ere it can fade and die, Gather the rose."
Dora had often sung this song, but she had never dreamed that it could be played on the piano, and it sounded so beautiful, so wonderful to her, that she said to her aunt, as she entered the dining-room,
"Oh, Aunt Ninette, how delightful it must be to know how to play on the piano! Do you think that I can ever learn it in my life?"
"Oh, in heaven's name, how can you ask me such a thing? How can you worry me so? How could you do anything of the kind in our house? Think of the terrible din that a piano makes! And where would the money come from if you could find the time? Oh, Dora, where did you get hold of that unfortunate idea? I should think I had enough to worry me already, without your asking me such a thing as this into the bargain."
Dora hastened to assure her aunt that she had no intention of asking for any thing, and the storm blew over. But never again did she dare even to speak of music, no matter how eagerly she had listened to the piano, during her long sewing lessons.
Every evening after Dora had learned all her lessons for school, while her aunt in utter silence knitted or nodded, the child climbed up to her little attic room; and before she closed her tiny window, she leaned out into the night to see whether the stars were shining, and looking down upon her from the high heavens. Five there were always up there just above her head; they stood close together and Dora looked at them so often and so steadily, that she began to consider them as her own special property—or rather as friends who came every night and twinkled down into her heart, to tell her that she was not utterly alone. One night the idea came to her that these bright stars were loving messengers, who brought her kisses and caresses from her dear parents. And from these heavenly messengers the lonely child gained nightly comfort when she climbed to her little chamber in the roof, with her feeble candle for her only companion. She sent her prayers up to heaven through the tiny window, and received full assurance in return, that her Father in heaven saw her, and would not forsake her. Her father had told her that God would always help those who trusted him and prayed to him, and she had no fear.
And so the long hot summer passed, and Autumn came. Then followed a long, long winter with its cold and darkness; such cold that Dora often thought that even the hot summer days were better, for she no longer dared to open the window to look for her friends the stars, and often she could hardly get to sleep, it was so cold in the little room, under the roof. At last the Spring rolled round again, and the days passed one like another, in the quiet dwelling of Uncle Titus. Dora worked harder than ever on the big shirts, for she had learned to sew so well, that she had to help the seamstress in earnest now. When the hot days came again, something happened; and now Aunt Ninette had reason enough to lament. Uncle Titus had an attack of dizziness, and the doctor was sent for.
"I suppose it is thirty years since you went beyond the limits of the town of Karlsruhe, and in all that time you have never left your desk except to eat and sleep. Am I right?" asked the physician, after he had looked steadily at Uncle Titus and tapped him a little here and there.
There was no denying that the doctor had stated the case truly.
"Very well," he said, "now off with you! go away at once; to-day rather than to-morrow. Go to Switzerland. Go to the fresh mountain air; that is all the medicine you need. Don't go too high up, but stay there six weeks at least. Have you any preference as to the place? No? Well, set yourself to thinking and I will do the same, and to-morrow I shall call again to find you ready for the journey."
With this off started the doctor, but Aunt Ninette would not let him escape so easily. She followed close at his heels with a whole torrent of questions, which she asked over and over again, and she would have an answer. The doctor had fairly deserved this attack, by his astounding prescription. His little game of snapping it suddenly upon them, and then quickly making his escape, had not succeeded; he lost three times as much time outside the door as if he had staid quietly in the room. When at last Aunt Ninette returned to her husband, there he sat at his desk again, writing as usual!
"My dear Titus," cried the good woman really in great astonishment, "is it possible that you did not hear what we are ordered to do? To drop everything and go away at once, and stay away for six weeks! And where? We have not an idea where! And there's no way of knowing who our neighbors will be! It is terrible, and there you sit and write as if there were nothing else to be done in the world!"
"My love, it is exactly because I must go away so soon, that I wish to make the most of the little time I have left," said Uncle Titus, and he went on with his writing.
"My dear Titus, your way of accepting the unexpected is most admirable, but this must be talked over, I assure you. The consequences may be very serious, and the matter must not be lightly treated. Do think at once where we are to go! Aunt Ninette spoke very impressively.
"Oh, it makes no difference where we go, if it is only quiet, and out in the country some where," said the good man, as he calmly continued his writing.
"Of course, that is the very thing" said his wife, "to find a quiet house, not full of people nor in a noisy neighborhood. We might happen on a school close by, or a mill, or a waterfall. There are so many of those dreadful things in Switzerland. Or some noisy factory, or a market place, always full of country folk, all the people of the whole canton pouring in there together and making a terrible uproar. But I have an idea, my dearest Titus, I have thought of a way to settle it. I shall write to an old uncle of my brother's wife. You remember the family used to live in Switzerland; I am sure I can find out from him just what it is best for us to do."
"That seems to me rather a round-about way," said her husband, "and if I remember right the family had some unpleasant experiences in Switzerland, and are not likely to have kept up any connection with it."
"Oh, let me see to that; I will take care that all is as it should be, my dear Titus," said aunt Ninette decidedly, and off she went, and without more delay wrote and dispatched a letter to her brother's wife's uncle. This done, she hurried away to Dora's sewing teacher, who was a most respectable woman, and arranged that while they were in Switzerland, Dora should spend the days with her, going to school as usual in the morning and sewing all the afternoon, and that the woman should go home with Dora to pass the nights.
Dora was informed of this plan when she came home that evening. She received the news in silence, and after supper in silence went to her little attic room. There as she sat upon her little bed, she realized fully what her life would be when her uncle and aunt had gone away, and as she compared it sadly with the happy companionship of her dear father, her sorrow and solitude seemed too terrible to bear, and she hid her face in her hands and gave way to bitter tears. Her uncle and aunt might die too, she thought, and she should be left alone with no one to care for her, no one in the world to whom she belonged, and nothing to do but to sit forever sewing on endless shirts. For ever and ever! for she knew she must earn her living by sewing. Well, she was quite willing to do that; but oh! not to be left all alone.
The poor child was so wholly absorbed in these painful thoughts, as they passed again and again through her mind, that she lost all sense of time, till at last she was aroused, by the clock on the neighboring tower striking so many times that she was frightened. She raised her head. It was perfectly dark. Her little candle had burned out, and not a glimmer of light came from the street. But the stars; yes, there were the five stars above still shining so joyfully, that it seemed to Dora as if her father were looking down upon her with loving eyes, and saying cheeringly,
"God holds us in his hand God knows the best to send."
The sparkling starlight sank deep into her heart, and made it lighter. She grew calmer. Her father knew, she said to herself, she would trust his knowledge, and not fear what the future might hold in store. And after she laid her head on her pillow, she kept her eyes fixed upon the beautiful stars until they closed in sleep.
On the following evening the doctor came as he had promised. He began to suggest various places to Uncle Titus, but Aunt Ninette assured him rather curtly, that she was already on the track of something that promised to be satisfactory. There were a great many things to be taken into consideration, she said, since Uncle Titus was to make so vast a change in his habits. The utmost prudence must be exercised in the selection of the situation, and of the house also. This was her present business, and when everything was settled she would inform the doctor of her arrangements.
"Very well, only don't be long about it; be off as soon as you can, the quicker the better," said the physician warningly, and he was making a hasty retreat, when he almost fell over little Dora who had stolen so quietly into the room that he had not seen her.
"There, there, I hope I did not hurt you," he said, tapping the frightened child upon the shoulder. "It will do this thin little creature a world of good too, this trip to Switzerland," he continued. "She must drink plenty of milk,—lots of milk."
"We have decided to leave Dora behind," remarked Aunt Ninette drily.
"As you please; it is your affair, Mrs. Ehrenreich; but you must let me observe that if you do not look out, you will have another case on your hands, as bad as your husband's, if not worse. Good-morning madam," and he vanished.
"Doctor, doctor! what do you mean? What did you say?" cried Aunt Ninette in her most plaintive tone, running down the stairs to overtake him.
"I mean that the little person up there has quite too little good blood in her veins, and that she cannot last long, unless she gets more and better nourishment."
"For heaven's sake! What unfortunate people we are!" cried Mrs. Ehrenreich, wringing her hands in distress, as she came back into her husband's room. "My dearest Titus, just lay down your pen for one moment. You did not hear the dreadful things the doctor said would happen to Dora, if she did not have more and better blood?"
"Oh, take her with us to Switzerland. She never makes any noise," and Uncle Titus went on with his writing.
"My dearest Titus, how can you decide such a thing in one second? To be sure she never makes any noise, and that is the most important thing. But there are so many other things to consider, and arrange for, and think over! Oh dear! Oh dear me!"
But Uncle Titus was again absorbed in his work, and paid not the slightest heed to his wife's lamentations. So, seeing that she could expect no help from him, she went into her own room, thought everything over carefully again and again, and at last decided that it was best to follow the doctor's advice, and take Dora with them.
In a day or two the expected letter came from Hamburg. It was very short. The old uncle knew nothing about his brother's residence in Switzerland, now thirty years back. Tannenburg was certainly quiet enough, for his brother had always complained of the want of society there, and that was all he knew about it. But this was satisfactory so far, and Aunt Ninette decided at once to write to the clergyman at Tannenburg for farther particulars. Solitude and quiet! this was just what Uncle Titus needed.
This second letter brought an immediate answer which confirmed her hopes. "Tannenburg is a small place, with scattered houses," wrote the clergyman. "There is just such a dwelling as you describe, now ready for lodgers. It is occupied by the widow of the school-teacher, an elderly and very worthy woman, who has two good-sized rooms and a little bed-room which she will be glad to let." And the widow's address was added, in case Mrs. Ehrenreich should wish farther information.
Mrs. Ehrenreich wrote immediately, setting forth her wishes at full length and in great detail. She expressed her satisfaction that the houses in Tannenburg were so far apart, and she hoped that the one in question was not situated in such a way as to be undesirable for the residence of an invalid. She wished to make sure that there was in the vicinity no smithy, no locksmith, no stables, no stone-breaker's yard, no slaughter-house nor mill, no school, and particularly no waterfall.
The answer from the widow, very prettily expressed, contained the agreeable assurance, that not one of these dreaded nuisances was to be found in her neighborhood. The school and the mill were so far away that not a sound could reach her dwelling from either, and there was no waterfall in that part of the country. Also there was not a house to be seen far or near, except the large residence of Mr. Birkenfeld, standing surrounded by beautiful gardens, fields and meadows. The Birkenfelds were the most respected family in the neighborhood. He was a member of every committee, and was a most benevolent man, and his wife was full of good works. The widow added that she herself owed a great deal to the kindness of this family, particularly with regard to her little house which was their property, and which Mr. Birkenfeld had allowed her to occupy ever since her husband's death. He had proved to be the kindest of landlords.
After a letter like this there was no need for farther delay; everything had been provided for. Dora now heard for the first time that she was to go with them, and with a light heart and a willing hand, she packed the heavy materials for six large shirts, which she was to make while they were in Switzerland. The prospect of sewing on the shirts in a new place, and with different surroundings, excited her so much that she looked on it all as a holiday. At last all was ready. The trunks and chests were carried down to the street door, and the servant-girl was sent out for a cabman with a hand-cart, to take them away.
Dora had been ready for a long time, and stood at the head of the stairs with beating heart filled with expectations of all the new things that she was to see for the next six weeks. The idea of this coming freedom almost overcame her with its bewildering delight, after all those long, long days in the seamstress' little, stifling room.
At last her uncle and aunt came from their room laden with innumerable umbrellas and parasols, baskets and bundles, got down stairs with some difficulty, and mounted the carriage that was waiting below. And they were fairly off for the country,—and quiet.
ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE HEDGE.
Mr. Birkenfeld's large house was situated on the summit of a green hill with a lovely view across a lake to a richly-wooded valley beyond. From early spring to the end of autumn, flowers of every hue glistened and glowed in the bright sunshine that seemed always to lie on those lovely meadows. Near the house was the stable, in which stamped four spirited horses, and there, also, many shining cows stood at their cribs, peacefully chewing the fragrant grass with which they were well-supplied by the careful Battiste, an old servant who had served the family for many years. When Hans, the stable-boy, and all the other servants were away, busy on the estate, it was Battiste's habit to walk round from time to time through the stalls, to make sure that all was as it should be. For he knew all about the right management of horses and cattle, having been in the service of Mr. Birkenfeld's father when he was a mere lad. Now that he was well on in years, he had been advanced to the position of house-servant, but he still had an eye upon the stable and over the whole farm. The mows were neatly filled with sweet-smelling hay, and the bins were piled full of wheat and oats and barley, all the product of the farm, which extended over the hill-side far away into the valley below. On the side of the house opposite the barnyards stood the wash-house with its spacious drying-ground, and not far away, but quite concealed by a high hedge from the house and garden, was the tiny cottage which the owner had kindly allowed the school-master's widow to occupy for several years past.
On the evening of which we write, the warm sunlight lay softly on the hillside, revealing the red and white daisies which nestled everywhere in the rich green grass. A shaggy dog was basking in the open space before the house door, lazily glancing about now and then to see what was stirring. All was quiet, however, and he peacefully dozed again after each survey. Occasionally a young, gray cat peeped slily forth from beneath the door-step, stared at the motionless sleeper and cautiously withdrew again. Everything denoted peace and quiet except certain sounds of voices and of great activity which proceeded from the back of the house, where the door leading into the garden, stood open.
Presently wheels were heard, and a wagon drove up and stopped before the door of the widow's cottage. The dog opened his eyes and pointed his ears, but it was evidently not worth while to growl at something in the next place, so he dozed off again at once. The newly-arrived guests descended from the carriage, and entered the cottage in silence. There they were cordially welcomed by Mrs. Kurd, and shown to the rooms reserved for them, and soon Aunt Ninette was busy in the large chamber unpacking her big trunk, while Dora in her little bedroom soon emptied her little box and put her clothes in the other room, which was to be his study, Uncle Titus also sat at a square table, busy placing his writing materials in readiness for work. Dora ran again and again to the window, whence she saw very different sights from any she had ever looked upon before. Green fields sprinkled with many-colored flowers, the blue lake, the snow-capped mountains in the distance, and over all, the enchantment of the golden-green light from the setting sun. The child could scarcely tear herself away from the window. She did not know that the world could be so beautiful. But her aunt soon recalled her from her wonderment, for there were still things to be put away which belonged to her, but had been brought in her aunt's trunk.
"Oh, Aunt Ninette," cried the child, "Isn't it perfectly beautiful?"
She spoke louder than she had ever thought of speaking in Uncle Titus' house, for the new scenes had aroused her natural sprightliness, and she was herself once more.
"Hush, hush Dora! Why, I don't know what to make of you, child! Don't you know that your uncle is in the next room, and is already at work?"
Dora took her things from her aunt's hands, but while passing the window, she asked softly,
"May I just look out of these windows a minute now, Aunt? I want to see what there is on every side of the house."
"Yes, yes, you may look out for a moment. There is nobody about. A quiet garden lies beyond the hedge. From the other window you see the big open space in front of the great house. Nothing else but the sleeping watch-dog before the door. I hope he is always as quiet. You may look out there too, if you like."
Dora first opened the window towards the garden; a delicious odor of jasmine and mignonette was wafted into the room from the flower-beds below. The high green hedge stretched away for a long distance, and beyond it she could see green sward and flower-beds and shady bowers. How lovely it must be over there! There was no one in sight, but some one certainly must have been there, for by the door of the house rose a wonderful triumphal arch, made of two tall bean-poles tied together at the top, and thickly covered with fir-branches. A large piece of card-board hung down from the arch, and swung back and forth in the wind, and something was written on it in big letters.
Suddenly a noise resounded from the open space in front of the great house. Dora ran to the other window and peeped out. A carriage stood there and two brown horses there stamping impatiently in their traces. A crowd of children came bursting out of the door of the house, all together; one, two, three, four, five, six, both boys and girls. "I, I, I must get upon the box," cried each one, and all together, louder and louder at every word; while in the midst of the crowd, the great dog began to jump upon first one child and then another, barking joyfully in his excitement. Such a noise had probably not greeted Aunt Ninette's ears within the memory of man.
"What is the matter, in heaven's name," cried she, almost beside herself. "What sort of a place have we come to?"
"Oh Aunty, look! see; they are all getting into the carriage," cried Dora, who was enchanted at the sight. Such a merry party she had never seen before.
One lad jumped upon the wheel, and clambered nimbly to a seat on the box beside the driver, from which he reached down his hand towards the dog, who was jumping and barking with delight.
"Come Schnurri, you can come too," cried the boy at the top of his lungs, at the same time catching at the dog, now by his tail, now by his paw, and again by his thick hair, until the driver leaned down and pulled the creature up beside them, with a strong swing. Meantime the eldest boy lifted a little girl from the ground, and jumped her into the carriage, and two younger boys, one slender, the other round as a ball, began to clamor, "Me too, Jule, me too, a big high one! me higher still!" and they shouted with glee, as they too were lifted up and deposited on the seat. Then Jule helped the older girl into the carriage, jumped in himself, and gave the door a good smart bang, for "big Jule" had strong muscles. The horses started; but now another cry arose.
"If Schnurri is going, I can take Philomele with me. Trine! Trine! bring me Philomele, I want to take Philomele!" shouted the little girl as loud as she could call.
The young, strong-fisted servant-maid who now appeared in the door-way, grasped the situation at once. She seized the gray cat that stood on the stone step casting angry looks at Schnurri, and flung her into the carriage. The whip cracked, and off they rolled.
Aunt Ninette hastened into her husband's room in great alarm, not knowing what effect all this disturbance would have upon him. He was sitting calmly at his table, with all the windows in the room closed and fastened.
"My dear Titus! who could have foreseen this? What shall we do?" she called out in tones of despair.
"It strikes me that the next house has a great wealth of children. We cannot help that, but we can keep the windows shut," replied her husband resignedly.
"But, my dearest Titus, only remember that you have come here expressly to breathe the healthy mountain air! As you never go out, you must let the air come in to you. But what will be the end if this is the beginning? What will become of us if this goes on?"
"We must go home again," said Uncle Titus, continuing to write.
Somewhat calmed by this proposition, Aunt Ninette returned to her room.
Dora had been very busy, putting her little room in perfect order, for she had formed a plan, which she meant to carry out as soon as this was done. The happy noise of the six children had so excited the lonely little girl that she was filled with the strongest desire to see them come back again, to see them get out of the carriage, and to see what would happen next; whether they wouldn't perhaps come into the garden where the triumphal arch stood, and then she could have a nearer view. She had made a little plan for watching them if they came into the garden. She thought that she might perhaps find a hole in the hedge that divided Mrs. Kurd's little garden from the large grounds next door, through which she could get a good view of what the children were doing, and how they looked. The child did not know what Aunt Ninette would say to this, but she determined to ask directly. At the door of her aunt's room she met Mrs. Kurd, who had come to call them to supper. Dora made her request then and there, to be allowed to go into the little garden, but her aunt said that it was now supper time, and after supper it would be quite too late. Mrs. Kurd put in a word in Dora's favor, saying that no one would be out there, and it would be safe for Dora to run about there as much as she chose, and at last Aunt Ninette consented to allow her to go out for a while after supper. The child could scarcely eat, so great was her excitement. She listened all the while for the sound of the returning wheels and the children's voices, but nothing was to be heard. When supper was over, her aunt said,
"You may go out now for a little while, but don't go far from the house."
Dora promised not to leave the garden, and ran off to search the hedge for the opening she wanted. It was a white-thorn hedge, and so high and thick that the child could see neither through it nor over it, but down near the ground were here and there thin places, where one could look into the next garden; but only by lying close on the ground. Little did Dora mind that; her one idea was to see the children. She had never seen so large a family, boys and girls, big and little, and all so happy and merry. And to have seen them all climbing into the carriage and driving off together! What a jolly party! She lay down on the ground in a little heap, and peered through the hedge. There was nothing to be heard; the garden beyond was still; the odor of the flowers was wafted to her on the cool, evening air, and she felt as if she could not get enough of it into her lungs. How beautiful it must be in there, she thought; to be able to walk about among the flower-beds! to sit under the tree where the red apples were hanging! And there under the thick branches stood a table, covered with all sorts of things which she could not see plainly, but which shimmered white as snow in the evening light. She was quite absorbed in wonder and curiosity, when—there—that was the carriage, and all the merry voices talking together. The children had returned. Dora could hear very plainly. Now all was still again; they had gone into the house. Now they were coming out again; now they were in the garden.
Mr. Birkenfeld had just returned from a long journey. The children had all gone down to the lake, to meet him at the landing when the steamboat came in. Their mother had remained at home to complete the preparations for the grand reception and the feast in the garden under the big apple-tree. The father's home-coming after so long an absence was a very joyful occasion for the family, and must be celebrated as such.
As soon as the carriage stopped at the door, the mother came running out to meet her husband. All the children jumped down, one after another, and the cat and the dog too, and they all crowded into the large hall, where the welcomings and greetings grew so loud and so violent that the father hardly knew where he was, nor which way to turn as they all pressed about him.
"Now one at a time, my children, and then I can give you each a good kiss," he said at last, when he succeeded in making himself heard through the tumult, "first the youngest, and then the others according to age. Now, my little Hunne, what have you to tell me?"
So saying, Mr. Birkenfeld drew his chubby five-year old boy to his knees. The child's name was Hulreich, but as he had always called himself Hunne, the other children and the parents had adopted the nick-name. Moreover, Julius, the eldest brother, declared that the baby's little stumpy nose made him look like a Hun, and so the name was very appropriate. But his mother would not admit the resemblance.
The little one had so much to tell his father, that there was not time to wait for the end of his story, and it had to be cut short.
"Bye and bye, little Hunne, you shall tell me all about it. Now it is time for Wili and Lili." And giving the twins each a kiss he asked them, "Well now, have you been very good and happy? and obedient, too, all this long time?"
"Almost always," replied Wili rather timidly, while Lili, recalling certain deviations from perfect obedience during her father's absence, thought it best not to make any answer. The twins were eight years old, and perfectly inseparable, never more so than in planning and carrying out various delightful plans, of whose mischievousness they were really only half conscious.
"And you, Rolf, how is it with you?" said the father, turning to a twelve-year old lad with a high forehead, and a strong, firm neck. "Plenty of Latin learned? More new puzzles ready?"
"I have been doing both, father," said the boy. "But the children will not guess my riddles, and my mother has not time to try."
"That is too bad," said his father, kindly and turning to the eldest daughter, a girl of nearly thirteen, he drew her to his side and said tenderly,
"And you Paula, are you still alone in your garden walks? have you no dear friend with you yet?"
"No, of course not, father, but it is beautiful to have you at home again," she answered as she embraced him.
"And I hope my 'big Jule,' is using his vacation in some sensible way?"
"I combine the agreeable with the useful," said Julius gaily, returning his father's embrace. "You must know, father, that the hazel-nuts are almost ripe and I am watching them carefully, and meantime I am riding Castor a good deal, so that he may not grow too lazy."
Julius was at home now only for the summer holidays, his school being in a distant town. He was seventeen, and tall, even too tall for his years so that in the family he was generally called "Big Jule."
Mr. Birkenfeld now turned to shake hands with the children's governess and the dear friend of the family, Miss Hanenwinkel, when Jule interrupted him.
"Come papa, I beg that you will do the rest of your greetings in the garden, where a most astonishing reception awaits you."
But his words cost him dear, for Wili and Lili sprang upon him as he spoke, pinching, pounding and thumping him to give him to understand that the "surprise" was not a thing to be talked about beforehand. He defended himself to the best of his ability.
"Lili, you little gad-fly, you, stop, stop, I tell you. I will make it all right," and he shouted to his father,
"I mean you are to go into the garden where my mother has prepared all sorts of delicious things for your supper, to celebrate your return."
"That is delightful. We shall find a big table spread under my favorite apple-tree. That is a surprise worth having. Come then let us all go into the garden."
He drew his wife's arm in his, and they walked out to the garden, the whole swarm following, Wili and Lili capering about in most noisy delight that their father should suppose that he knew what the "surprise" was already.
As they passed out into the garden they passed under the great triumphal arch, with red lanterns hung on each side, lighting up the large tablet, on which was an inscription in big letters.
"Oh, oh, how splendid!" cried the father, now really surprised, "a beautiful arch and a poem of welcome. I must read them aloud:"
"Here we stand in welcome Beside the garden door, How glad we are that you're at home! We feared you'd come no more, So long you've stayed—but now to-day Forgot is all our pain. The whole world now is glad and gay, Papa is here again!"
"That is fine—Rolf must have been the author of that, was he not?" and Wili and Lili jumped about more than ever, crying out,
"Yes, yes, Rolf wrote it, but we planned it all out and he made the verses, and Jule put up the poles and then we fetched the fir twigs."
"That was a delightful surprise, my children," said their father, much gratified. "How pretty the garden looks, all lighted up with red and blue and yellow lanterns. It looks like an enchanted spot, and now for my favorite apple-tree."
The garden did look very pretty. The little paper lanterns had been made up a long time before, and this very morning Jule had fastened them about on all the trees and high bushes, and while the hand-shaking and kissing had been going on in the house, Battiste and Trine had lighted the candles. The big apple-tree was dotted all over with them, so that it looked like a huge out-of-doors Christmas tree, and the red apples shone so prettily in the flickering light, that altogether it would have been difficult to imagine a more charming scene.
The table, spread with a white cloth and loaded with all sorts of nice dishes, looked irresistibly attractive.
"What a beautiful banquet-hall," cried the delighted father, "and how good the feast will taste! But what is this? Another poem?" and to be sure, a large white placard hung by two cords from the high bushes behind the apple-tree, and on it were the following lines:
"My first is good for man to be— Better than wealth. My second we have longed to see Our father do in health. My whole with merry hearts we cry Today, and shout it to the sky."
"A riddle! Rolf made this too, I am sure," said he, clapping the boy kindly on the shoulder. "I will begin to guess it as soon as I can. Now we must sit down and enjoy these good things before us, and the pleasure of being all together again."
So they all took their places at the table, and each had his or her own story to tell of what had happened, and what had been done during the separation. There was so much to say that there seemed no chance for a pause.
At last however, came a silence, when lo! Mr. Birkenfeld drew a huge bundle from beneath his chair, and began to open the wrapper, while the children looked on with the greatest interest, knowing very well that that bundle held some gift for each one of them. First came a pair of shining spurs for "big Jule," then a lovely book with blue covers for Paula. Next a long bow with a quiver and two feather arrows. "This is for Rolf," said the father, adding as he showed the boy the sharp points of the arrows, "and for Rolf only, for he knows how to use it properly. It is not a plaything, and Wili and Lili must never dream of playing with it, for they might easily hurt themselves and others with it."
There was a beautiful Noah's Ark for the twins, with fine large animals all in pairs, and Noah's family, all the men with walking-sticks and all the women with parasols, all ready for use whenever they should leave the ark.
Last of all, little Hunne had a wonderfully constructed nutcracker, that made a strange grimace as if he were lamenting all the sins of the world. He opened his big jaws as if he were howling, and when they were snapped together, he gnashed his teeth as if in despair, and cracked a nut in two without the slightest trouble so that the kernel fell right out from the shell.
The children were full of admiration over both their own and each others' presents, and their joy and gratitude broke out afresh at every new inspection of each.
At last the mother stood up and said that they must all go into the house, for it was long after the children's usual bed-time. At this their father arose, and called out,
"Who has guessed the charade?"
Not one had even thought of it, except to be sure, the author.
"Well, I have guessed it myself," said their father, as no one spoke. "It must be 'welcome,' is it not, Rolf? I will touch glasses with you, my boy, and thank you very much for your charade."
Just as Rolf was raising his glass towards his father's to drink his health, a terrible shriek arose, "It is burning, it is burning!" Everybody ran from under the apple-tree; Battiste and Trine came from the house with tubs and buckets, Hans from the stable with a pail in each hand; all screaming and shouting together.
"The bush is on fire! the hedge is on fire!" There was terrible noise and confusion.
"Dora! Dora!" cried a voice of distress from the cottage behind the hedge, and Dora rose from her hiding place and hurried into the house. She had been so completely absorbed by what had been taking place under the apple-tree, though indeed she saw and heard but imperfectly, that she had entirely forgotten everything else, and it was full two hours that she had been lying all doubled up in the gap under the hedge.
Her aunt was flying back and forth, complaining and scolding. She had collected all her things from the drawers and the presses, and heaped them together, ready for flight.
"Aunt Ninette," said the little girl timidly, for she knew she had staid out too long, "you need not be frightened; it is all dark again in the garden; the fire is all out."
Her aunt cast a rapid glance from the window, and saw that this was true; everything was dark, even the last lantern extinguished. Some one was moving about among the trees, evidently to make sure that all was safe.
"This is too terrible! Who would have believed that such things could happen?" said Aunt Ninette, half scolding, half-whimpering. "Go to bed now Dora. To-morrow we will move away, and find another house, or leave the place altogether."
The child obeyed quickly, and went up to her little bedroom, but it was long, very long, before she could sleep. She still saw the illuminated garden, the sparkling apple tree, and the father and mother with their happy children gathered about them. She thought of the time when she too could tell her father everything, and the thought doubled her sense of her own loneliness, and of the happiness of those other children.
And the child had become so much interested in the life beyond the hedge, and so almost fond of that good father and mother, whom she had been watching, that the thought of going away again as her aunt threatened, was a very sad one. She could not go to sleep. Presently she seemed to see the children with their kind father again, and her own father was standing with them, and she heard these words,
"God holds us in his hand, God knows the best to send."
And so she fell asleep, and in her dreams she again saw the shining apple-tree, and the merry group under its branches.
On investigating the cause of the fire, it was discovered that Wili and Lili had conceived the happy thought of turning the riddle into a transparency, so that suddenly the company might see it shining with red light behind it, like the motto behind the Christmas tree, "Glory to God in the highest."
So they withdrew silently from the company, fetched two candles, climbed upon some high steps, which had been brought when the placard was put in place, and held the candles as near as possible to the card. As they did not perceive any expression of surprise on the faces of the company at the table, they raised their candles higher and higher, nearer and nearer, until the paste-board suddenly took fire, and the flame quickly spread to the bushes above.
The twins readily confessed themselves the cause of the mischief, and were sent to bed with but a gentle reproof, so as not to spoil the general effect of the festivity, but they were seriously warned never to play with fire again as long as they lived.
Soon all was quiet in the great house, and the moon looked peacefully down on the trees and the sleeping flowers in the silent garden.
"We shall not be able to remain here; Mrs. Kurd," were the first words spoken by Mrs. Ehrenreich when she came to breakfast the next morning. "We have come into such an objectionable neighborhood that we must move away today."
Mrs. Kurd stood still in the middle of the room, quite speechless, and stared at the lady as if unable to grasp her meaning.
"I am fully convinced of the absolute necessity of our immediate departure," said Aunt Ninette, with emphasis.
"But indeed no more respectable, no quieter spot can be found in all Tannenburg than this. You cannot hope to be more comfortable anywhere else; either you or the gentleman," asserted the good widow as soon as she had recovered from her surprise.
"How can you say so, Mrs. Kurd, after hearing that intolerable uproar last evening? noises far surpassing anything that I described to you in my letters as 'absolutely to be avoided.'"
"Oh, my dear lady, that was only the children! You know they were having a family festival, and they were of course unusually lively."
"Indeed! if this is your method of celebrating family festivals in these parts, first a tempest of shouts and cries and then a fire with all its accompanying noise and hubbub, I can only say that such a neighborhood seems to me not only undesirable for an invalid, but positively dangerous."
"I do not think you can call the fire a part of the celebration," said Mrs. Kurd gently. "It was an accident, and it was very quickly extinguished, you must admit. A more orderly and well regulated family is nowhere to be found, and I cannot understand how the lady and gentleman can seriously think of leaving. I can assure you that no other such spot is to be found in all Tannenburg! If the gentleman needs quiet he will do well to walk into the wood, where it is healthful and quiet too."
After talking awhile, Mrs. Ehrenreich became more composed, and seated herself at the breakfast table, where Mr. Titus and Dora also took their places.
At the other house, breakfast had long been finished. The father had gone about his business, and the mother was occupied with her household affairs. Rolf was off to his early recitations in Latin, with the pastor of a neighboring parish. Paula was taking her music-lesson of the governess, and Wili and Lili took this opportunity to look over their lessons once more. Little Hunne sat in the corner with his newly-acquired nut-cracker before him, gravely studying its grotesque face.
Presently 'big Jule' came in, whip in hand, all booted and spurred from his morning ride.
"Who will pull off my riding boots?" he asked, throwing himself into a chair, stretching out his legs, and gazing admiringly at his new spurs. Wili and Lili sprang quickly from their seats, delighted at the chance of doing something that was not a lesson, and each seized a foot and began to pull with such force that before Jule knew what they were about he found himself slipping from his chair. In the next second he had grasped the side of his chair with the result that that also was pulled along the floor. He called out hastily "Stop! Stop!" while little Hunne, who saw the situation from his corner, now flew to his elder brother's assistance, hung on to the chair from behind, planting his little feet firmly on the ground, and throwing his weight backward as well as he knew how. His efforts were insufficient, however, and he was dragged along the floor as if he were on a coast. Wili and Lili were determined to finish their undertaking, and kept on pulling and pulling.
"Stop! Stop! Wiling and Liling You terrible twinning"
cried Jule, while little Hunne added his voice to swell the tumult.
At this the mother made her appearance upon the scene, and the uproar was stilled at once. Jule swung himself panting back into his chair, and Hunne slowly regained his equilibrium.
"My dear Jule, why do you make the children behave so badly? You ought to know better at your age," said his mother reprovingly.
"Certainly, mother, certainly, in future I will do better, but if you will look at it from another side, I am doing something, in affording the twins an opportunity to be of use, instead of carrying on their usual mischievous pranks."
"Jule, Jule, that does not look like doing better," said his mother warningly. "Lili, go down stairs and practise your exercises until Miss Hanenwinkel has finished Paula's music lesson. Wili, go on with your studying, and the best thing you can do, Jule, to help me, is to amuse the little one until I am at leisure."
The "big Jule" was ready to help to restore order after his bit of fun, and Lili ran down stairs to the piano as she was bidden. She found herself too much excited after the exertion of playing boot-jack for her brother, and her exercises did not run smoothly, so she took up one of her "pieces" to work off her superfluous energy upon, and began to play with great emphasis,
"Live your life merrily, While the lamp glows, Ere it can fade and die, Gather the rose."
Uncle Titus and his wife were just finishing their breakfast in a neighboring house when the affair of the boots began. Uncle Titus hastened to his room, closing the windows and fastening them against the noise. His wife summoned their hostess rather peremptorily, and asked her "just to listen to that" for herself. It did not seem to make much impression upon Mrs. Kurd however, who only said smilingly,
"Oh, how merry the dear children are, to be sure," and when Aunt Ninette went on to explain that such disturbances were the very worst thing for her poor invalid, the hostess only again recommended the walk in the woods for quiet and fresh air! The noise in the next house would not last long, she said, the young gentleman would soon return to college, and it would be much more quiet then. As she spoke, the sound of Lili's merry music came across through the open window on the morning breeze.
"And that too, is that the work of the young gentleman, who will soon return to college?" asked Mrs. Ehrenreich excitedly. "It is unendurable; continually some new noise or tumult or uproar. What do you say to this last, Mrs. Kurd?"
"I never have thought of it as noise," said the good woman simply, "the dear child is making such progress with her music, it is a pleasure to hear her."
"And Dora, where can Dora be? Is she bewitched too? It is time for her to begin her sewing; where can she be? Dora! Dora! Have you gone into the garden again?"
Aunt Ninette's voice was querulous and excited. To be sure, Dora had crept down again to peer through her opening in the hedge, and she was now listening as if enchanted, to Lili's gay music. She came back at once at the sound of her aunt's voice, and took her appointed place at the window where she was to sit and sew all day.
"Well, we cannot stay here, that is certain," said Mrs. Ehrenreich as she left the room.
The tears started to Dora's eyes at these words. She did so long to remain here, where she could hear and partly see now and then, the merry healthy life of these children in the beautiful garden beyond the hedge. It was her only knowledge of true child-life. As she sewed, she was planning and puzzling her brain with plans for prolonging their stay, but could think of nothing that seemed likely to be of use.
It was now eleven o'clock. Rolf came scampering home from his recitations, and catching sight of his mother through the open door of the kitchen, he ran to her, calling out before he reached the threshold, "Mamma, mamma, now guess. My first—"
"My dear Rolf" interrupted his mother, "I beg of you to find some one else to guess. I have not time now, truly. Go find Paula, she has just gone into the sitting-room."
"Paula," he called out, "My first—"
"No, Rolf, please, not just now, I am looking for my blank-book to write my French translation in. There is Miss Hanenwinkel, she is good at guessing, ask her."
"Miss Hanenwinkel," cried poor Rolf, pouncing upon her, "My first—"
"Not a moment, not a second, Rolf," said the governess hastily. "There is Mr. Julius over there in the corner, letting the little one crack nuts for him. He is not busy; I am. Good-bye, I'll see you again."
Miss Hanenwinkel had been in England, and had taken a great fancy to this form of expression much in vogue there, and she constantly used it as a form of farewell, whether it was apropos or not. Thus she would say to the persistent scissors-grinder, who came to the door,
"Have you come back so soon? Do go where you are wanted if there is any such place. Good-bye. I'll see you again," and shut the door with a slam.
Or to the traveling agent who brought his wares to show, if asked to dismiss him, she would say,
"We want nothing; you know very well. Don't come here again. Good-bye. I'll see you again," and shut the door in his face. This was a peculiarity of Miss Hanenwinkel.
Julius was quietly seated in a corner of the sitting-room, while Hunne stood before him watching with grave attention his nut-cracker's desperate grimaces as he gave him nut after nut to crack in his powerful jaws. Hunne carefully divided each kernel, giving one half to Jule, while he popped the other into his own little mouth.
Rolf approached them, repeating his question, "Will you guess, Jule? You are not busy."
"My first in France, applaudingly The people to the actors cry: With steady aim full in the eye, To hit my second you must try; My whole's a prince of prowess high, Who fought the fight for Germany."
"That is Bismarck, of course," said the quick-witted lad.
"O, O, how quickly you guessed it," said Rolf, quite taken aback.
"Now it is my turn; pay attention. You must try hard for this now. I have just made it up." And Jule declaimed with emphasis:
"My first transforms the night, And puts its peace to flight. My second should you now become, You scarce will move, for fife or drum. My whole hath power to soothe you all, Be your delight in church, or camp, or ball."
"That is hard," said Rolf, who was rather a slow thinker. "Wait a moment, Jule, I shall get it soon." So Rolf sat down on an ottoman to think it over at his ease.
The big Jule and the little Hunne in the mean time pursued their occupation without interruption. As an extra proof of his skill, Julius practised with the shells at hitting different objects in the room, to his little brother's delight and admiration.
"I have it," cried Rolf at last, much delighted. "It is Cat-nip!"
"O, O, what a guess! what are you thinking of? It is something very different, entirely different. It is music. Mew—sick—music, don't you see?"
"Oh, yes," said Rolf rather abashed. "Now wait Jule, here's another. What is this?"
"My first sings by the water side, My next is Heidelberg's great pride, My whole was a blind poet, who In England lived and suffered too."
"Shakspere," said Julius, whose pride it was to answer instantly.
"Wrong," cried Rolf, delighted. "How could a shake sing by the water side, Jule?"
"Oh, I supposed you meant a shake in somebody's voice, as he was riding or driving along," said Jule, to justify himself. "Now what are you laughing at?"
"Because you have made such a wrong guess. It is some one 'very different, entirely different,' Jule. It is Milton, the blind poet Milton. Now try another because you failed in this. My first"—
"No, no, I must beg for a rest. It is too much brain work for vacation. I am going now to see how Castor is after my ride this morning." And Julius dashed off to the stable.
"Oh, what a shame!" cried Rolf, "what a pity! Now there is no one to guess, and I made four splendid charades on my way home. It is too bad that you are not old enough to guess, Hunne."
"But I can guess; I am old enough," said the little fellow rather vexed.
"Well, then try this one, try hard. Stop playing with the nuts and I will crack some more for you bye and bye. Now listen:
"My first conceals from light of day The wanderer on his final way; My second sizzling in the pan, Makes hungrier still the hungry man; My whole, bedecked in trappings gay, Goes ambling on the livelong day."
"A nutcracker," said Hunne without hesitation. Julius was his beau-ideal of all that was best, and he thought that if he imitated Jule, and answered quickly the first thing that came into his head, that was guessing.
But Rolf was angry.
"How can you be so stupid, Hunne? Just think about it a little, can a nut cover some one on his last way?"
"Why, it can cover—well—the shell covers it."
"Nonsense! and a nutcracker can not go ambling all day, can it, you stupid child."
"Now see, mine can," said the little boy, who did not like to be called stupid, and he tied his handkerchief round the neck of the long suffering nutcracker and dragged it after him up and down the room, lifting it up now and then at regular intervals.
"Oh well, yes, you think you're right; and I can't explain it because you don't understand anything about it. Just try to think a little; can you hear a cracker sizzling as its cooks, and will it make you hungry to hear it?"
"If I throw a cracker into the fire, won't it burn?" said the child, planting himself before Rolf and holding his nutcracker saucily before his eyes.
"Oh, there is no use talking to you," said Rolf, and was just about leaving the room, but this was not so easily done, for now Hunne was bitten with the mania for riddle-making himself.
"Stop, Rolf," he cried and grasped his brother by the jacket to hold him. "My first is not good to drink but to eat—"
"Oh dear, well, that must be 'nutcracker' again," and Rolf ran off, wrenching himself from his tormentor's hands. But the boy followed him, crying, "Wrong, wrong! you are wrong. Try again, try again!"
Moreover, Wili and Lili came scampering in from the other side, crying out,
"Rolf, Rolf, a riddle! guess! try!" and Lili held up a strip of paper and rattled it before Rolfs eyes, repeating, "Guess, guess, Rolf."
So the riddle-maker was now caught in his own meshes.
"Well, at least leave me room to guess in," cried he, striking about him with his arms to make room.
"You can't guess anything," cried little Hunne contemptuously, "I am going to Jule—he knows."
Rolf took the little slip of yellowish paper that Lili was waving back and forth, and looked at it in surprise. In a childish hand-writing that he had never seen before, were written the following words,
"Come lay your hand Joined thus we Each the other That our union But behold the That our future We will cut our Half for you and But we still will That our halves And with us Our friendship."
"It is probably a rebus," said Rolf thoughtfully. "I shall guess it after a little while. Just let me stay alone long enough to think it out."
There was not much time left for this however, for the dinner-bell sounded and all the family assembled in the large hall for the mid-day meal.
"What nice thing has my little Hunne done to-day?" asked the father, when they were at last all busy over their plates.
"I made a splendid riddle, Papa, but Rolf never tries to guess my riddles, and I couldn't find Jule, and the rest would not listen to me at all."
"Yes, Papa," interrupted Rolf! "and I too have made three or four splendid ones, but no one has time to guess them, and those who have time enough are so stupid that there is no use in trying to get any answer from them. When Jule has guessed one he thinks he has done enough, and I can make at least six in a day."
"Yes, yes, Papa"—it was now Wili's and Lili's turn—"and we have found such a hard riddle, so hard that even Rolf couldn't guess it. It is really a rebus."
"If you will wait long enough I can get it, I am sure," said Rolf.
"We seem to have a riddle in every comer," said their father. "I believe we have a riddle-fever, and one catches it from another. We really need a regular guesser in the house, to do nothing but guess riddles."
"I wish I could find such a person," said Rolf, sighing, for to be forever making riddles for somebody who would listen with interest and guess with intelligence, seemed to him the most desirable thing in the world.
When dinner was over, the family went merrily into the garden under the apple-tree, and seated themselves in a circle. The mother and Miss Hanenwinkel and the girls were armed with sewing and knitting work. Little Hunne also had a queer-looking bit of stuff in his hand upon which he was trying to work with some red worsted. He said he wanted to embroider a horse-blanket for Jule. Jule had brought a book at his mother's request, to read aloud to them.
Rolf sat a little way off under the ash-tree, and studied his Latin lesson. Wili sat by his side, meaning to study his little piece, but first he looked at the birds in the branches, and then at the laborers in the field, and then at the red apples upon the tree, for Wili loved visible things, and it was only with the greatest difficulty, and generally with Lili's assistance, that he could get the invisible into his little head. Consequently, his afternoon study usually turned to a continuous observation of the surrounding landscape.
Jule also seemed inclined to pass his time in looking about him instead of reading aloud, for he did not open his book, but allowed his eyes to wander in all directions, particularly towards his sister.
"Paula," he said at last, "the expression of your countenance to-day is as if you were a wandering collection of vexations."
"Oh, do read to us, Jule; then we shall have something more agreeable than these similes which nobody can understand the meaning of."
"It would be nicer if you would read, Jule," added her mother, "but I must say too, Paula, that you have been for the last few days so short and snappish that I should really like to know what is amiss with you. You seem out of sorts with every one about you."
"But mamma, with whom can I have any real companionship? I have not a single friend in all Tannenburg. I have nobody in all the world with whom I can be intimate."
The mother suggested that Paula might be a little more friendly with her sister Lili, and also with Miss Hanenwinkel. But Paula declared, that Lili was much too young, and the governess much too old. The latter was really only twenty, but to Paula she seemed very old indeed. For girls to be intimate, she declared they must be of the same age, so that they could thoroughly understand each other's feelings, and they must be always together. Without such a friend Paula said there was no real pleasure in life, for a girl needed some one to whom she could confide her secrets, and who would tell her own in return.
"Yes, Paula is at the romantic age," said her brother. "I am sure that for a long time she has peeped into every field flower to see if it would not suddenly unfurl a hidden banner, and turn into a Joan of Arc. Every little mole that she sees in the fields, she half suspects may wear a seal-ring on his little finger, and be a Gustavus Vasa in disguise, searching amid the mole-hills for his lost kingdom."
"Do not be so teasing, Jule," said his mother reprovingly. "There is certainly something very delightful in such an intimacy as Paula describes. I had such an experience myself, and the memory of that happy time is dear to me even now!"
"Oh, do tell us again about your dear friend Lili, mamma," exclaimed Paula, who had often heard her mother speak of this intimate friendship, and had indeed formed her own ideal upon that model. Lili also joined her sister in begging for the story, and even more urgently, for she knew nothing about this friend, although she bore the same name.
"Was not I named for her, mamma?" she asked, and her mother assented. "You all know the long manufactory under the hill," continued Mrs. Birkenfeld, "with the large house surrounded by a beautiful garden. Lili, my friend, lived there, and I remember very well the first time I ever saw her.
"I was about six years old, and I was playing one day in the parsonage garden with my simple dolls, which I set up on flat stones, that I always collected for seats for my children, whenever and wherever I found them. For I had no such outfit for my dolls as you children have now, no sofas and chairs and other furniture. You all know that your grandfather was the pastor in Tannenburg, and we led a very simple life at the parsonage. My playmates, two of the neighbors' children, were standing as usual by me and staring at me while I played, without saying one word. They never seemed to take the interest in my plays that I thought they deserved. They stood and looked at me with their big eyes, no matter what I did, and it was very annoying to me.
"Well, this evening, I was sitting there, on the ground, with my dolls all placed in a circle, when a lady came into the garden and asked to see my father. Before I could reply, a child whom she was leading by the hand, came running to my side, squatted down by me, and began to examine everything. I had so arranged my stones that each flat one had another stuck into the ground edgewise behind it, so that the doll could be placed leaning back against it as if it were a chair. The child was delighted with this arrangement, and joined in my play at once with the liveliest interest, while on my side I was so charmed with the little stranger's looks and ways, with her pretty floating curls and her sweet voice that I forgot everything else, and looked on bewitched, while she made the dolls say and do all sorts of things that I had never thought of before. I was quite startled when the lady again asked where she could find my father.
"From that day forth Lili and I were inseparable friends, and a rich and happy life was opened to me in her lovely home, such as I had never known nor thought of. I shall never forget the delightful, untroubled days which I spent in that beautiful house. I was almost as much loved and petted as if I had been Lili's own sister. Her parents had come from North Germany. Her father had been induced to buy the factory by the advice of an acquaintance, and they expected to remain permanently in our neighborhood. Lili was an only child, and having been hitherto without companionship of her own age, she clung to me very closely, and I returned her affection with equal fervor.
"What good, kind people her parents were! They asked as a great favor that I might make long visits at their house, and my parents allowed me to pass weeks at a time with my newly found friends. Those visits seemed to me like prolonged festivals. Such lovely toys and playthings as Lili had! I had never even dreamed of anything like them. I shall never forget the innumerable figures cut from fashion plates which we used for paper dolls! We each had a large family of them, with all their kindred and relatives, each one fitted with a name, a character and a story of its own. We almost, nay quite, lived in their imaginary lives, and we shared their joys and sorrows as if they had been real.
"I always returned home laden with gifts, and I was scarcely settled there, when new requests came that I would repeat the visit. When we were a little older we had lessons together, both from a regular teacher and from my father, and when we began to read together, the heroes and heroines of our books were as real to us as our dolls had been, and we lived over their lives and histories again and again. What life and energy Lili had; what freshness and vivacity; my charming Lili, with her flowing brown curls and her laughing eyes!
"So the years passed, and no thought of coming sorrow and separation crossed our young lives, until one day, when we were nearly twelve years old, my father told me—I remember the very spot in the garden where we were standing at that moment—that Mr. Blank, Lili's father, was about to give up his factory and return to Germany. As I understood, Mr. Blank had been deceived from the very beginning; the business was not in the prosperous condition that had been represented to him, and now he was obliged to give it up, to his great loss. My father was very much disturbed, and he declared that Mr. Blank had been very badly treated, and was consequently ruined.
"I was broken-hearted. To lose Lili, and to have her lose all her property, were two things which made my life unhappy for a long, long time. The very next day she came to say good-bye. We cried bitterly, for we could not bear to think of living apart, we were so necessary to each other's happiness. We promised to be always true to each other, and to use every effort to meet again; and then we sat down together and composed a last poem, for we had often written verses together. We cut the poem in halves, and took each a half to keep as a token of our lasting union, and as a sign of recognition when we should some day meet again.
"Lili went away. We wrote to each other for several years, and our friendship continued as fervent as ever. These letters were the only drops of comfort in the monotonous loneliness of my life after I lost Lili. When I was about seventeen, I received a letter which told me that her father had decided to go to America. She promised to write again as soon as they were settled in their new life. I never heard from her again. Whether her letters were lost, or whether the family never staid long enough in one place for her to be able to give me an address, or whether Lili thought that our lives were now so irrevocably separated that we could never hope to resume our intimacy—these are questions that I have often asked myself, but that of course I have had no means of deciding. Perhaps Lili is no longer living; she may have died soon after that very time—I cannot tell. I have mourned her as an irreparable loss, for she was my first, my only intimate girl-friend, and nothing can efface from my mind the memory of her friendship, and of the vast goodness and affection which her family showered upon me. I have inquired for them in every direction, but have never discovered any clue to their existence far or near."
The mother was silent; a very sad expression rested upon her face. The children sympathized with her and said one after the other, sorrowfully, "What a pity, what a pity!" Little Hunne, however, who had listened very attentively to his mother's story, put his arms lovingly around her, and said,
"Don't be so sad, mamma dear! I will go to America as soon as I am big enough, and bring your Lili back with me; that I will!"
Rolf and Wili had drawn near, to hear the story, and presently Rolf said, looking thoughtfully at a strip of paper which he held in his hand,
"Did your piece of paper with the poem look like a rebus, after you had cut it in two, Mamma?"
"Perhaps so, Rolf. I should think it might look like one. Why do you ask?"
"Look here! is this it?" replied the boy, holding up his strip of paper.
"Yes, yes, it certainly is it," cried the mother in great excitement. "I thought it had been lost long ago. I kept it carefully put away for many years, and then in some way I lost sight of it. I thought it was lost forever. Lately I have not thought of it at all, but telling you the story of my early friendship, brought it again to my mind. Where did you find it, my son?"
"We found it!" cried Wili and Lili triumphantly. "It was in the old bible with the queer pictures. We thought we would look at Eve, again, to see whether her face was scratched as it used to be." The twins talked both together as usual.
"Yes, that is another thing that brings my Lili to mind," said their mother, smiling. "She scratched that picture once when we were saying how lovely it would be if we were in Paradise together, and suddenly she felt so furious with Eve because she ate the apple, that she scribbled all over her face with a pencil, 'to punish her,' she said. My old verses! I cannot recall the other half, it is so long ago, over thirty years! only think, children, thirty years ago!"
She laid the paper carefully away in her work-basket, and bade the children put their things together and come into the house, for it was almost supper-time, and their father approved of punctuality above all things.
They gathered up their work and books, and returned slowly to the house under the triumphal arch that still spanned the garden-door of the house.
Dora had been peeping at them as they sat clustered about their mother in an attentive group under the apple-tree. She had now a good chance to examine each child, as they walked slowly back to the house, and as the last one disappeared, she said, softly sighing, "Oh, if I could sit only just once with them under the apple-tree!"