VERONICA And Other Friends
TWO STORIES FOR CHILDREN
BY THE AUTHOR OF "HEIDI"
TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN OF JOHANNA SPYRI, BY LOUISE BROOKS
BOSTON DE WOLFE, FISKE & CO. 361 AND 365 WASHINGTON STREET
Copyright 1886, BY LOUISE BROOKS. All Rights Reserved.
I. A VISIT TO THE DOCTOR
II. WITH FRESH COURAGE
III. NINE YEARS LATER
IV. ALL AT HOME
V. UPON UNSAFE PATHS
VI. LAME SABINA GIVES GOOD ADVICE
VII. A THUNDER-CLAP
VIII. EACH ONE ACCORDING TO HIS KIND
IX. MOTHER GERTRUDE GIVES GOOD ADVICE
X. MAN PROPOSES, BUT GOD DISPOSES
XI. THE MOTTO PROVES TRUE
A VISIT TO THE DOCTOR.
It was early in the month of March. The dark blue vault of heaven lay over mountain and valley, swept free from clouds by the keen northern blast as it blew across the hills, swaying the big trees hither and thither as if they were bulrushes, and now and then tearing off huge branches which fell crashing to the ground. Other and sadder victims were sacrificed to this fierce north wind. Human beings as well as inanimate objects fell before him. He struck down with his mighty arm, not only the old and feeble, but the young and strong; just as he swept away the clouds, hurrying them across the skies, beyond the horizon line, away out of sight. Sometimes in one day, a cruel malady would seize one occupant out of each one of the three or four little villages clustered on the hillside. A sharp pain attacked the lungs, and after a brief illness the resistless disease bore away the sufferer to the silent grave.
At the very moment of which we write, a group of black-clad mourners were standing near one of the pleasantest houses in the isolated village of Tannenegg, waiting for the sound of the church bell, as the signal to lift the covered bier on which was stretched the body of a young woman, the last victim to the north wind's cruel stroke, and to bear her to her final resting place. In the quiet room within, two children were seated on a bench, which ran along the wall. They formed a striking contrast to each other. The girl, a little black-eyed frowning thing, dressed in some mourning stuff, followed with fierce looks the rapid movements of a woman who, standing before an open cup-board, was moving its contents over and about, as if in search of something that did not come to hand. The boy was also watching her, but his dancing blue eyes had in them a merry look of pleased expectation.
"I want to go out, Cousin Judith," said the girl, and her tones were half angry, half anxious, "Where can my mother be?"
"Be still, be still," said the woman, still tumbling the contents of the cup-board about nervously. "I shall find something pretty for you presently; then you must sit down quietly and play with it, and not go outside, not one step, do you hear? Pshaw! there is nothing but rubbish here!"
"Well, then give us the rose," said the little girl, still scowling.
The woman looked about the room.
"There are no roses here," she said. "How should there be, in March?" she added, half vexed at having looked for them. "There," said the child, pointing towards a book that the woman had but a moment before replaced in the cup-board.
"Ah! now I know what you mean. So your mother always kept the rose, the "Fortune rose?" I often envied her when she used to show it to us in her hymn-book;" and as she spoke, she turned the leaves of the old hymnal, until she found the rose and handed it to the child.
"Take it," she said, "be quiet, and do not get up from your seats till I come back;" and she hurried from the room.
The little girl took the prettily-painted rose, in her hand; it was an old acquaintance, her favorite Sunday plaything.
When her mother wanted to secure a quiet hour for herself on Sundays, she used to give her "Fortune rose" to her little Veronica, and it was sure to occupy the child for a long time in perfect contentment.
"Look, this is the way you must do," said the child, as she pulled with her fingers a small strip of paper that stood out from the side of the picture; suddenly before the astonished eyes of the boy the red full calix of the rose flew open, disclosing a glittering golden verse that lay in the centre of the flower. Then Veronica pushed the paper-strip back, and the rose folded its leaves and was a perfect flower again.
Quite dazzled by this wonderful magic the little boy stared with amazement at the rose, and then seized it to try for himself.
While the children were playing, Veronica's mother was being laid in her grave. After awhile Cousin Judith came back into the room. She was "cousin" to all Tannenegg, though related to no one. She came back to take the rose, and put it into the hook, which she replaced in the cup-board. "Sit still awhile longer, children;" she said, "and presently your mother will come for you. Be good and do not trouble her, for she has enough to bear already."
It was the little boy's mother she meant, and the children knew it. They knew also very well, that they must be good and not trouble her, for they had seen her for two days going about the house with eyes red with weeping. Presently she entered the room, and took the children one by each hand, and went to the door with them. She seemed to be struggling with sad and heavy thoughts. She usually spoke cheerily to the children, but now she was silent, and every now and then she furtively wiped away a tear.
"Where are we going, mother?" asked the boy.
"We must go to the doctor's, Dietrich," she answered, "your father is very ill." And she led them along the foot path toward the little town, where the white houses shone in the sunlight. Fohrensee was a new place, that had sprung up as if in one night from the soil, and now stood there a great white spot against the dark hillside. Not long before, it had been only a little cluster of houses standing in a protected spot on the side of the hill, not very far below Tannenegg. It was so situated that the biting north wind, which blew so sharply over the exposed houses of Tannenegg, did not reach the nook where little Fohrensee lay bathed in the full light of the sun. But the little place was high enough to be visited by all the cooling breezes, and was healthy, pure and fresh, to a remarkable degree. When, not long before this time, an enterprising inn-keeper discovered its health-giving qualities, and built an inn there, guests filled it so rapidly that he soon put up another. Soon, one after another, little inns sprang up, as from the ground, and then a crowd of trades-people came up from the valley, and settled around, for the number of guests constantly increased, and the strangers found the spot so favorable to health, that it became a favorite winter resort. And thus the obscure little Fohrensee became, in a few years, a large and flourishing town, stretching out in every direction.
Gertrude, however, walking sturdily along with the children, was not going as far as Fohrensee, with its shining white houses. She turned off into a foot path that led to several scattered dwellings up on the hillside, and soon reached an open space, on which stood a handsome house, with large stables near by. Out from the stable, a hostler had just led a spirited horse, which he began to harness into a light wagon. Instantly the little boy freed his hand from his mother's, planted himself before the horse, and could not be induced to move.
"Stay there then, if you want to," said his mother, "we will go on to the house; but you must take care not to go too near the horse."
The doctor was just hurrying out from his office; he must have had a long distance to go, for he was starting off before the usual time for office hours was over. Gertrude apologized, and begged the doctor to excuse her for not having come earlier to see him; she had been very busy with her invalid, and could not get away before. "Never mind; as you have come, I will wait a few minutes," said the physician, briefly; "Come in; how is your husband?"
Gertrude went into the room, and told the doctor about her sick husband. It was Steffan, a strong, young man, on whom the mountain sickness had seized with unusual violence. The doctor silently shook his head. He took a small mortar that stood on the office table, and shook into it some stuff which he ground with the marble pestle. His eyes fell on the child who stood by Gertrude's side, gazing earnestly at the doctors's occupation. The little creature had something unusual about her, and attracted attention at once. Under her thick black hair and heavy brows, her big eyes looked forth with a solemn gaze, as if everything she saw gave her food for thought.
"He had no one but himself to blame for it, I fancy," said the doctor, as he filled some small square papers with his powders.
"No, no! he was not the least of a brawler; he was a quiet industrious fellow. They had rented some of our rooms, and lived there peaceably and happily for three whole years, and never was an unkind word exchanged between them. But he was a stranger in these parts; he was never called anything but the Bergamasker, and the other fellows could never forgive him for having won the prettiest and most courted girl in the whole village. They never ceased to tease and irritate him, and on this especial evening at the Rehbock they must have been unusually offensive. Apparently they were all somewhat excited, for they could afterwards give no clear account of the affair, but the end was that the Bergamasker came home fatally wounded, and died the next day. Everything has been different among us since the Rehbock was built. Our village used to be quiet and orderly; every one was contented to work all the week and rest on Sunday. Nobody ever heard of such a thing as noisy drinking and rowdyism. But I have another errand with you now, doctor. Lene charged me on her death bed to attend to it. She did not leave any money, but she had an excellent outfit. She bade me sell her bedstead and her bureau, and bring you the proceeds, to settle what she owed you. She was very anxious that I should see to it, for she felt that you had done a great deal for her; and she spoke of how often you had climbed the hill both by day and night, to visit her. So, please give me the bill, doctor, so that I may settle it at once, as I promised her."
"What relatives has the child?" asked the doctor shortly.
"She has none at all in these parts," replied Gertrude. "She has been with me all through her mother's illness, and now she is mine. Her mother's family are all gone. She might perhaps be sent to her father's parish in Bergamaskische, but I shall not do that; she belongs now to us."
"I would not go there," said the child firmly in a low tone, clinging to Gertrude's dress with both hands.
The doctor opened a big book, tore out a leaf, and drew his pen twice across the closely written page.
"There," he said, handing the cancelled sheet to Gertrude, "that is all the bill I shall give you."
"Oh, doctor, may God reward you," said Gertrude. "Go, child, and thank the doctor, for you owe him a great deal."
The child obeyed after her own fashion. She planted herself before the big man, looked steadily at him with her great black eyes and said somewhat hoarsely,
"Thank you." It sounded more like a command than anything else.
The doctor laughed.
"She is rather alarming," he said, "she is evidently not accustomed to say anything she does not really mean. I like that. But come, I must be off," and handing the medicine to Gertrude he left the room quickly so as to avoid her repeated thanks.
The little boy was standing where his mother had left him, still staring at the restless horse. The doctor looked kindly at the little fellow.
"Would you like to take care of a horse?" he asked, as he got into his wagon.
"No, I should like to drive one of my own," replied the child without hesitation.
"Well, you are quite right there: stick to that, my boy," said the doctor, and drove away.
As Gertrude, holding a child by each hand, climbed the hillside, the boy said gaily,
"Say, mother, I can have one, can't I?"
"Do you mean to be a gentleman like the doctor, and own a horse, Dietrich?" asked the mother.
The boy nodded.
"So you can, if you will work hard for it, and stick to your work well. You see the doctor had to do that for a long time, and has to do it still, and if you stick to your work as he has, and never stop nor get tired till it is done, and well done, then you will be a gentleman, even if you are not a doctor. It doesn't matter what you do; you may be a gentleman if you persevere and work hard and faithfully."
"Yes, with a horse," said Dietrich.
The little girl had been listening intently to every word of this conversation. Her black eyes blazed out suddenly as she looked up to Gertrude and said decidedly,
"I'll be one too."
"Yes, Yes, Mr. Veronica! Mr. Veronica! that sounds well," cried Dietrich, and he laughed aloud at the idea.
Veronica thought it no laughing matter, however. She pressed Gertrude's hand firmly and looked up with glowing eyes, as she said, "I can be one too, can't I mother; say?"
"You should not laugh, Dietrich," said his mother kindly. "Veronica can be exactly what you can be. If she works steadily, and does not grow tired and careless, but keeps on till her work is finished and well finished, she will be a lady as you will be a gentleman."
Veronica trotted along contentedly after this explanation. She did not speak again. The frowning brows were smoothed and the fiery eyes now shone with the light of childish joy as she caught sight of the first flowers that began to peep above the ground. The child's face looked fairly charming now; her well-formed features framed by the dark locks, made a beautiful picture.
Dietrich was also silent: but he was pursuing the same train of thought, for he broke out presently,
"Will she have a horse too?"
"Why not, as well as you. It all depends on how steadily and how faithfully you both work," replied Gertrude.
"Well, then, we shall have two horses," cried the boy, joyfully. "Where shall we put the stable, mother?"
"We can see to that bye and bye, there is plenty of time for that. It won't do for you to be thinking about the horse all the time, you know, you must keep your mind on your work if you mean to do it well."
Dieterli said no more. He was busy trying to decide on which side of the house it would be best to put the stable.
That night, Gertrude again hurried down the hill to the doctor's houses and this time she brought him back with her.
Her husband's illness had taken a turn for the worse, and the next day he died.
WITH FRESH COURAGE.
A few days later a numerous company of mourners followed another black bier to the sunny church-yard.
Steffan, the saddler, had been universally respected. He had begun life modestly; there had been no large industries in Tannenegg in his early days. He married the quiet and orderly Gertrude, who worked with him at his trade, and helped support the frugal household. Soon the flood of prosperity invaded Fohrensee, and naturally the only saddler in the vicinity had his hands full of work.
Now Gertrude's help was needed in earnest, and she did not fail. They were soon in possession of a nice little house of their own, with a garden about it, and no matter how much work she might have to do in the shop, everything in her own province of housekeeping was as well and carefully ordered as if Gertrude had no other business to occupy her time and thoughts. And Steffan, Gertrude and their little Dieterli lived simple, useful and contented lives and were a good example to all the neighborhood.
Now, to-day, Gertrude stood weeping by the window and looked across to the church-yard, where that very morning they had laid her good man. Now she must make her way alone; she had no one to help her, no one belonging to her except her two children, and for them she must work, for she never admitted for a moment that the orphaned Veronica was not hers to care for as well as her own little Dietrich.
She did not lose courage. As soon as the first benumbing effect of her sorrow had passed a little, she gazed up at the shining heavens and said to herself, "He who has sent this trouble will send me strength to bear it;" and in full trust in this strength she went to work, and seemed able to do more than ever.
Her property, outside of the little capital which her husband had laid by, consisted of her house, which was free from debt, and of which she could let a good part. The question was, whether she could carry on the remunerative business that her husband had been engaged in, until little Dietrich should be old enough to assume the direction of it, and pursue it as his father had done before him. Gertrude retained the services of a workman who had been employed by Steffan, and she herself did not relax her labors early and late, to oversee the work and keep all in running order.
For the first few weeks after her mother's death little Veronica sat every evening weeping silently by herself in a dark corner of the room. When Gertrude found her thus grieving, she asked kindly what ailed her, and again and again, she received only this sorrowful answer,
"I want my mother."
Gertrude drew the child tenderly towards her, caressing her, and promising her that they would all go together some day to join her mother, who had only gone on before, that she might get strong and well again. And gradually this second mother grew to take the place of her own, and no game, no amusement could draw the loving child away from Gertrude's side. Only Dietrich could succeed in enticing her to go with him now and then.
The lad's love for his mother showed itself in a louder and more demonstrative manner. He often threw his arms about her neck, crying passionately,
"My mother belongs to me and to nobody else."
Then Veronica's brows would knit over her flashing eyes, until they formed a long straight line across her face. But she did not speak. And Gertrude would put one arm about the boy's neck and the other about the little girl's, and say,
"You must not speak so, Dietrich. I belong to you both, and you both belong to me."
In general, the two children were excellent friends, and completely inseparable. They were not happy unless they shared everything together and wherever one went, the other must go too. They went regularly to school every morning, and were always joined by two of the neighbors' children, who went with them.
These were, the son of the shoemaker, long, bony Jost, with his little, cunning eyes,—and the sexton's boy, who was as broad as he was long, and from whose round face two pale eyes peered forth upon the world, in innocently stupid surprise. His name was Blasius, nicknamed Blasi.
Often, on the way to school, quarrels arose between Dieterli and the two other boys. It would occur to one of them to try what Veronica would do if he were to give her a blow with his fist. Scarcely had he opened his attack when he found himself lying on his nose, while Dieterli played a vigorous tattoo on his back with no gentle fists. Or the sport would be to plant a good hard snow-ball between Veronica's shoulders, with the mortifying result to the aggressive boy, of being pelted in the face with handfuls of wet snow, until he was almost stifled, and cried out for mercy. Dieterli was not afraid of either of them; for though smaller and thinner than either, he was also much more lithe, and could glide about like a lizard before, behind and all around his adversaries, and slip through their fingers while they were trying to catch him. Veronica was well avenged, and went on the rest of her way without fear of molestation. If one of the other lads felt in a friendly mood, and wished to act as escort to the little girl, Dieterli soon gave him to understand that that was his own place, and he would give it up to no one.
Every evening "Cousin Judith" came for a little visit, to give Gertrude some friendly advice about the children, or the household economy. She used to say that the gentle widow needed some one now and then to show claws in her behalf, and Judith knew herself to be in full possession of claws, and of the power to use them, an accomplishment of which she was somewhat proud. One evening she crossed over between daylight and dark, and entered the room where Veronica was, with her favorite plaything in her hand, moving it back and forth as she sat in the window in the waning light. She could read very nicely now for two years had passed since she had lost her own mother, and had become Gertrude's child. Many a time had she read over the motto which shone out so mysteriously from the breast of the opened rose. To-day she was poring over it again, and her absorption in "that same old rose," as Dieterli called it, had so annoyed the lively lad that he left her, and had gone out into the kitchen to find his mother. When Judith saw the girl sitting thus alone, buried in thought, she asked her what she was thinking about in the twilight all by herself.
Dieterli, whom no sound ever escaped, had heard Cousin Judith come in, and came running in from the kitchen to see what was going on. Veronica looked up at the visitor and asked earnestly,
"Cousin Judith, what is fortune?"
"Ah, you are always asking some strange question that no one else ever thought of asking;" said Cousin Judith, "where on earth did you ever hear of fortune?"
"Here," said Veronica, holding up the rose with the golden verse in the centre. "Shall I read it to you?"
"Yes, do, child."
"Fortune stands ready, full in sight; He wins who knows to grasp it right."
"Well, it means this—I should say—fortune is whatever anyone wants the most."
"Fortune is a horse, then," said Dietrich quickly.
Veronica sat thinking. "But, Cousin Judith," she said presently, "how can any one 'grasp fortune'?"
"With your hands," replied Cousin Judith unhesitatingly, "You see, our hands are given us to work with, and if we use them diligently and do our work well, as it ought to be done, then fortune comes to us; so don't you see we 'grasp it' with our hands?"
The verse had now become endued with life, and meant something real and attractive to Veronica. She did not lay her rose out of her hand for a long time, that evening, notwithstanding that Dietrich cast threatening glances upon it, and finally broke out in vexation,
"I will tear off the spring some time, and spoil the thing altogether."
The rose was not put into the book and the book into the cup-board, until the time came for the children to say their evening prayers. This was the closing act of every day; and it was so fixed and regular a habit, that the children never needed to be bidden to fold their hands, and kneel to ask God's blessing before they slept.
NINE YEARS LATER.
A sunshiny Easter morning shone over hill and valley. A crowd of holiday-making people poured out of the little church at Tannenegg, and scattered in every direction. A long row of blooming lads and lassies came in close ranks, moving slowly towards the parsonage. They were the newly-confirmed young people of the parish, who had that day partaken of the Communion for the first time. They were going to the house of their pastor, to express their gratitude for his careful and tender teaching and guidance, before they went out into the world. Among these were Dietrich and Veronica. Gertrude stood at a little distance from the church, and watched the procession as it passed by. Her eyes were filled with tears of pleasurable emotion, as she noticed that her dark-eyed Veronica was conspicuous among all the maidens for the tasteful neatness of her costume, and for the sweetness and grace of her bearing. The glance which Veronica cast upon the mother in passing was full of love and gratitude; and seemed to repeat the words that the faithful girl had spoken in the morning, as she left her to go to the church. "I cannot thank you enough, as long as I live, for what you have done for me, mother." A yet brighter expression of happiness crossed Gertrude's countenance when the young men came in procession after the girls, as her eyes fell on the well-formed lad, a head taller than his companions, who nodded at her, and greeted her with merry laughing looks, kissing his hand again and again, and yet once again. That was her tall handsome Dietrich. His mother's heart leaped in her breast at the sight of his fresh young life, so full of hope and promise. Gertrude waited till the visit to the pastor was over, and the young people had separated on their various paths. Then she in her turn entered the parsonage. She wished herself to speak her thanks to this true and long tried adviser and friend, for all that he had done for her children.
"You are a fortunate mother," said the aged pastor, after he had listened to Gertrude's expressions of gratitude. "Those are two uncommon children that the good God has confided to your care, and I feel the greatest interest in them. The lad has a clear head, and a winning grace that draws everyone to him. Veronica is serious and conscientious; she has a calm steady nature and can be depended upon for fidelity to duty, such as it is rare to find. The children will be your stay and comfort in your old age. May you keep them in the paths of virtue."
"With God's help;" said Gertrude, and she left the parsonage with tears of happiness in her eyes. As she passed the garden of her neighbor Judith, the latter called out over the low hedge,
"They have just gone by, all four of them. It always seems to me strange that while all babies in the cradle look just alike, so that you can't tell them apart, they grow up to be such very different men and women."
"No, no, these four were never alike," replied Gertrude, "but I agree that they grow more and more unlike every day."
"Yes, that they do. And of you three near neighbors, you certainly have drawn the best lot in children," said Judith with enthusiasm, "two like your two are not to be found in a long day's journey. Veronica will fully repay you for what you have done for her."
"I have been repaid long ago by the child's attachment to me. She has never given me anything but satisfaction ever since her mother died. If I have any anxiety about Veronica it is lest she over-work herself. There is something feverish in her love of work; she can never do enough. No matter how late I go into her room at night, she is always finishing off some piece of work; and no matter how early I get up in the morning, she has already begun something new. If I had not positively forbidden it, she would keep at it even on a Sunday. It is a real source of anxiety to me, lest she should over-work and break down."
"Oh, I don't think you need be afraid of that, Gertrude; work never yet hurt any one, least of all the young folks. Let her work away. But I don't see the need of her scowling so all the time. She looks for all the world as if she were fighting and struggling against enemies and difficulties of all sorts. I like better Dietrich's laughing eyes; they are so full of fun. When he goes down the street singing—
'Gladly and merrily Live to-day cheerily, Black care and sorrow Leave till to-morrow,'
it goes right to my heart, and I could sing too for very joy. No one can help loving him."
Gertrude listened with sunshine in her face to these words of praise, but a little cloud of anxiety shadowed her eyes as she said,
"Yes, God be praised, he is a good boy and means well, but I do wish that he had a little of Veronica's firmness of purpose. It is very pleasant to have every one like him, but too great popularity is not always a good thing. And those two companions that are always hanging about him, are not such as I myself would choose for his friends."
"If they could all be put to some steady work it would be the best thing for them," said Judith. "Idleness is the mother of mischief. Blasi is not an ill-meaning fellow, but he is lazy, greatly to his own injury. Long Jost is the worst of the two; a sly-boots, and a rare one too. It is to be hoped that he will break his own leg, when he's trying to trip some one else up with it."
"No, no, Judith, on this holy Easter day, we will not have such unkind hopes as that. I hope and believe that the good God holds the children in his protecting hand. We have given them to him; that is my comfort and support Good-bye, Judith; come often to see us; we are always glad of your company."
On the evening of this sunny Easter day, while rosy clouds moved slowly across the clear sky, and the golden glow faded in the far west behind the wooded heights, Gertrude came back from a long walk in the fields and woods. On one side of her strode Dietrich, talking rapidly and earnestly: the fresh joy of youth was written in every movement of his little figure, and laughed from the depths of his clear eyes. On the other side Veronica walked, listening in silence. Her noble features, above which her black hair fell in shining waves, had a serious, thoughtful expression, but every now and then, when Dietrich let fall some particularly apt expression, a look would cross her face that irradiated it like a sunbeam crossing a shadowed plain. Mother Gertrude looked now proudly at her radiant son, now approvingly at her stately daughter, and again she lifted grateful glances towards the glowing heavens where she saw promise of another brilliant day to come. Far and wide, in all Tannenegg, was not to be found that day, such another happy mother as Gertrude.
When they reached the crossways where the footpath led up by the tavern of the Rehbock, Dietrich turned into it, and his mother was about to follow him, but Veronica drew her back, saying anxiously,
"Don't go that way, mother dear; it is not much farther by the other road."
Dietrich laughed aloud.
"Now there it is again. Do you know, mother, that I can never get Veronica to go past the Rehbock. She would rather go ten minutes farther round, and she will not say why either. To-day, Veronica, I am determined that you shall go this way or tell us why not."
"No; to-day we will not quarrel, Dietrich, please;" said the girl entreatingly, but with a tone that showed no signs of yielding her point, "let us sing a song as we go; mother loves to hear us sing."
As she spoke, she walked steadily along the road, and the others followed,
"Well then," said the lad, "let's sing 'Gladly and merrily'"—and he began to sing the familiar tune.
"To-night I should rather sing the Fisher-boat," said Veronica, and without demur the good-natured boy dropped his song, and joined his clear tones with Veronica's steady voice, the two harmonizing perfectly as they sang:
"A tiny boat, a fisher-boat, Tossed lightly on the silver sea; Around the rocks, in air, afloat The white gulls circle lazily. A tiny boat, a fisher-boat— The fisher draws his slender line; He half in dream-land seems to float. Saying, 'to-morrow will be fine.'"
Softly singing, in the soft falling shadows of evening, the happy trio drew towards their home, and disappeared within the cottage door.
ALL AT HOME.
Dietrich had already worked for some time in his father's business. It was all in the best possible condition; the work shop, the tools and materials had been carefully kept up, and everything was fresh and in good working order. The old customers had not withdrawn their custom, for the former workman who had served under Steffan for many years had continued his deceased master's methods, so that the reputation of the work was sustained, and as Fohrensee grew, so also the saddler's orders grew, and the business flourished. So Dietrich found his trade ready made to his hand, and as good a prospect lay before him as heart could wish. He took hold with a good will, and being his own master did not make him the less diligent. He was determined first to work faithfully till he had thoroughly learned the business, and then to travel for a while. When he had seen the world a bit he would come back, go on with the business farther and farther, and become a gentleman; and then—then—where could a happier man be found than he should be, living with his mother and Veronica in peace and plenty. His mother should pass her days in happy idleness if she wished, without care, without sorrow, in wealth and comfort, and Veronica! Yes, he would give Veronica a life far happier and more beautiful than she had ever dreamed of for herself! While his brain teemed with these pleasant thoughts, Dietrich sang and whistled at his work all day long, and did good work, too. He had a skilful hand and a clear head, and his work went successfully on.
Veronica had persuaded her mother to let her stay longer in the Industrial School than was usual with the young girls of the neighborhood. Even up to the day of her confirmation, she had taken sewing lessons twice from a most accomplished teacher. A short time before Easter, the teacher had assured Gertrude that Veronica had made such extraordinary progress, that she was already prepared to teach, and that she had completed the course taught at that school, and could learn no more there. Veronica certainly deserved farther training and the teacher suggested that it would be well worth while for her to take lessons in embroidery of lame Sabina in Fohrensee. She would then be sure of a position as a teacher, as high as her utmost ambition could desire.
It had always been Gertrude's plan to have Veronica learn to work at the saddler's business, as there is a good deal of the fine work which is suitable for women, and which it needs a woman's hand to carry out. She hoped that in this way her children could always remain together and with her. The fine embroidery for which lame Sabina was noted, it did not seem to her at all necessary for Veronica to learn, but she was willing to leave the decision to her. As soon as Veronica heard of this new work to be learned, she was eager to begin upon it, and she left her mother no peace until she extracted from her the promise that directly after the confirmation, this new undertaking should be entered upon.
A few days after Easter Sunday, Veronica went to take her first lesson. It was very early in the morning when she started to go down to Fohrensee; so early that people were just beginning to open their windows, and only here and there a sleepy face was to be seen at the door of a house. She had to go early in order to get in a good day's work, for she was to come home at night, and it was an hour's walk each way. She knew well the old cottage with the beautiful carnations illuminating its windows, which was the home of lame Sabina. The windows were already open, and the door also. She entered and her new life began.
Up in Tannenegg, Dietrich sat at his work, singing and whistling merrily. His mother, busy with her household affairs went hither and thither about the house, from sitting room to kitchen, and then with the feeding-bucket, out on the grass plat before the house, where a flock of handsome fowl were pecking about. All was still quiet in the neighboring houses, but over by the well stood the never-idle Judith, beating and turning her clothes as she washed them. Along the road with uncertain steps came the old sexton, swinging the big church-keys in his hand; he had been ringing the early morning peal. As he lifted his cap a little to salute Judith at the well, she called out,
"Good day, neighbor, I was just thinking it would be a good exchange if the old folks were to lie abed at this hour and let the young ones pull the bell rope."
"Well, some one must be doing it," said the other, and passed on his way.
Judith had been busy at her washing full two hours longer, when in the doorway of the sexton's house appeared a young fellow, whose figure, almost as broad as it was long, filled the opening, with scarce anything to spare. He tried to yawn, but there was not room enough to stretch his arms, so he stepped outside for the purpose, and there he gaped so heartily that all the inside of his big mouth and throat was distinctly visible.
"There's nothing in it, Blasi! I've had a good look at it," cried Judith. "If you had been here two hours ago, you might have seen a sight. A girl with a whole mouthful of gold! What do you say to that?"
Blasi caught at this, and brought his jaws together with a snap.
"What! full of gold?" he exclaimed, and opened his sleepy eyes to their utmost extent. "Why doesn't the foolish thing carry it in her pocket? Where does she come from?"
"That's no concern of yours. You will never come up with her," replied Judith.
"Tell me, for all that," urged Blasi, coming toward Judith, "I can go after her, and I've no doubt I shall come up with her, and then there's no telling what may happen. Come, where did she go, now? Do you know her name?"
"Her name is Early Morn, Blasi," said Judith pleasantly. "Did you never hear the saying, 'There's gold in the mouth of the early morn.'"
Blasi made a wry face and began in an angry tone,
"There's nothing very clever in that"—but just then he remembered that when he came out of the house he had intended to come over and say something quite different to Judith; so he changed his tone quickly, and said,
"Can you lend me a franc or two; I have just time to do a little business before eleven o'clock, and then I must be back to ring the noon bell; I must try to help father, a little."
"No, no, Blasi, I have no francs for you," said Judith decidedly. "It wants three hours yet of being eleven o'clock. Use those big arms of yours, and they'll bring you francs enough." And so saying, she lifted her clothes-basket on her head, and walked away.
Blasi stood looking after her, a moment, then he sauntered off, with both hands in his pockets, up the road towards, the shoemaker's old house. There sat Jost before the door, hammering away at something as if for dear life. Blasi drew near, and stood watching the busy hands of his friend, who presently cried out angrily,
"So it is holiday with you, is it, you lazy-bones? It is maddening to see one fellow go wandering about with his hands in his pockets, while another has to sit on his three-legged stool, hammering away at the soles of these—these—these Tanneneggers' boots. To-morrow is Cherry-festival in Fohrensee, and every one is going; and I, I must get their boots ready! I wish a thunder-storm would come and wash this away, and that, and the whole lot of 'em!" As he spoke he tossed away first the mended boots, then the hammer, and last of all the three-legged stool, away, as far as he could throw them, down into the meadow. He was white with rage.
"What stuff!" said Blasi, dryly. "You are paid for your cobbling; you are better off than I am. I haven't a rap, and am in debt besides. I was going to ask you if you couldn't lend me a franc. You have money, I know."
"Oh yes, you sleepy-head! It's very likely I have money for you, when I'm in such need of it myself! Go ask Dietrich; he has his pockets full, and a big heap besides. But don't be such a fool as to ask him for just one mean little franc; ask for five. I'll use two or three of them; tell him you'll pay him again in a week."
Blasi seemed rather undecided.
"I should have gone to him long ago," he said, "but his mother is always about, and she looks at a fellow as a bird does when somebody is trying to rob her nest. I'm afraid of her."
"Poh! it's all right enough to borrow a little money if you're going to pay it back again. Don't be a fool! Go along!" and Jost enforced his advise with an emphatic shove that sent Blasi rolling along much faster than he wished to go. He grumbled a little at this unpleasant style of progression, and muttered between his teeth,
"He's no right to treat me so; I'm as good as he is, any day."
When he reached Gertrude's garden, he stood still and looked over the hedge. Dietrich's mother was there, planting her vegetable bed. He sauntered back and forth for awhile, and when he saw her go to the other corner of the garden, he thought he could now get without being seen, into the room where he heard Dietrich whistling at his work. He went round the garden, and was just going in at the back gate, when he came plump against Gertrude. He went by quickly as if he had had no idea of going in; and then hung about watching his chance, but as time did not stand still while he waited, it was bye-and-bye eleven o'clock, and he had to go off to ring the noon bell.
In the afternoon, neighbor Judith was hoeing in her little garden. Blasi stood hesitating in his door-way, and then came out and stood watching her at her work.
"I am always surprised, Blasi," said Judith, looking up from her work, "to see you in company with a fellow, who steals your money from your pockets, before you know it is there. I would not have anything to do with such a one."
"What? who?" asked Blasi, fumbling in his empty pockets. "Who picks my pockets? Who are you talking about? I know I did have some; I wish you would tell me the thief."
"I'll tell no tales," said Judith, working away.
"Bah! tell me, won't you? A fellow can't defend himself unless he knows who is attacking him," growled Blasi. "You might say who you mean."
"Well, I will. Go and take him by the ear. His name is Idleness!" As Judith spoke, she raised her head, and looked Blasi full in the face; then she bent to her work again.
The lad was angry. He had hoped that he was going to get something back of which he had been robbed, and that Judith would help him as she had been a witness of the theft.
"Oh, what a fuss you make over a few minutes," he said crossly; "I have to go at four o'clock to ring the bell. I think I ought to take a little from the old man."
"I should say you took more from him than he had. It has just struck half past two; do you know how many minutes there are in an hour and a half?"
"There's no getting along with you," said Blasi, turning away.
"Well, you get along finely without me, so go on and prosper," said Judith quickly as the lad disappeared.
Blasi had by no means given up his project. He did not see anyone in Gertrude's garden as he passed along. He clambered up on the lattice by the hedge and peeped through the open window into the room. Dietrich's mother was seated near her son; both were working steadily, the young fellow was chattering and laughing gaily, and his mother answered and laughed too, but they did not stop working all the while. Blasi saw plainly that this was not the time to make his request. He would wait until the mother had gone to the kitchen, as she was sure to do bye-and-bye. Four o'clock came and the great business of his day was at hand; it was time to ring the bell, and he had to go. At last when evening came Blasi found his opportunity. He stood watching outside the door, when suddenly Dietrich threw it open, and started off with rapid strides.
Blasi called out, "Wait, wait a minute, can't you? What's your hurry?"
Dietrich turned about.
"What do you want? Tell me quickly. I'm going to meet Veronica; she can't come home alone through the woods after dusk."
"Well, look here," said Blasi, breathing hard with his haste, and holding Dietrich by the arm. "You see, I'm in trouble for want of a few francs or so. Can't you lend them to me? I'll give them back again very soon."
"I haven't that much about me now. Stop a minute—yes, here are two francs and here's a half; will that be enough?" and throwing the money to Blasi, the young man hastened away.
As evening drew on, Gertrude stood at the end of the garden and looked down the road. She listened to every sound that came from below. She was waiting for her children's voices, for the sound of their footsteps; her children, who made her life, her happiness, her hope! Ah! there they are! that is Dietrich's voice talking eagerly, while Veronica's bell-like laugh sounds clear through the still evening air. With a heart filled to overflowing with happiness, Gertrude went forth to meet them.
As they sat together round the table in their usual cheerful mood, the mother asked for an account of this, Veronica's first day among strangers, and how she liked her new work.
"Very much indeed, mother," was the answer, and the young girl's face beamed with a smile that swept away all trace of the clouds that sometimes marred its beauty.
"I can't tell you how delightful it is to be able to earn so much. But after all, mother dear, the best part is that I can come home to you at night."
"That's what I think too," said Dietrich quickly, and you had but to look in his eyes to see that he spoke the truth.
"And I am as glad as either of you," said Gertrude smiling. "It has been a long day for me. It seems a great while since you started off this morning, Veronica."
"What! when your only son was sitting by you all day long?" asked Dietrich playfully.
"Oh, you know what I mean. I need you both to make me perfectly happy, and cannot spare either of you;" and she looked from one to the other with caressing glances.
Veronica told them all about the new teacher and the new work, and it was late in the evening before the three separated for the night.
UPON UNSAFE PATHS.
After this evening, Dietrich was scarcely ever able to go on his walk alone. Blasi had always some pretext for joining him, and when Jost found out that regularly every evening his friend took the same walk at the same hour, he too discovered that he had a great deal to tell him, and to consult him about. The two accompanied him through the wood, and when they emerged from it on the other side, they usually saw a graceful figure coming along the white road that led up the hill from Fohrensee. Then without a word on the subject, as by tacit agreement, they stopped, shook hands, and separated; the other two turned back toward the village, and Dietrich went on. They felt instinctively that this was the best thing to do. Dietrich, certainly, found out that his companions were not to Veronica's mind, when one evening, the three being so engaged in talk that they had not noticed that they were later than usual, Veronica came into the wood before they left it, and she recognized Blasi and Jost, although they turned quickly back.
"They can't have the best of consciences," said Veronica, as Dietrich joined her; "if they had only straight-forward business on hand, why did they take themselves off so hastily, as soon as I came in sight?"
"Can't you understand that we may have something to talk about, that we do not wish you to hear?" asked Dietrich.
The girl was silent a few moments, and then she said, rather seriously,
"It would suit me far better, if you were not so much in company with those two fellows. Blasi is absolutely idle, and cannot be nice, and Jost is really bad; you can see that in his face. He never dares to look me full in the eye; he always avoids a direct glance, as if he feared that his eyes would betray him. I believe he is thoroughly false."
"No, no, you should not judge him so harshly," said Dietrich, good-humoredly. "He is not what you think him; he is a good friend to me, and has already taught me a great deal that I should never have got at without his help. He is a very clever fellow."
Veronica let the matter drop, but it was plain that she had not changed her opinion.
The days grew longer and brighter. The wood was filled with sweeter perfumes evening after evening, as the two friends sauntered along their homeward path, and in each young heart the feeling grew and ripened, that still sweeter and more beautiful days were to come.
One afternoon in May, Veronica paced leisurely along the white hill-road, her eyes fixed on the tall oak on the borders of the wood, which marked the place where the foot-path came out upon the high road. Everything was quiet; not a human being in sight. She reached the spot and looked anxiously into the wood. She listened; she peered between the trees; all was solitude. The tree-tops, softly murmuring, rocked gently to and fro, and through the branches she saw the sunset glow. For the first time, the young girl entered the wood alone. It was quite dark, in there. She passed along with rapid step, among the solemn pines, hastening faster and faster, as the trees seemed to draw together about her. When she came out upon the open pathway, she saw Dietrich coming across the field in hot haste. He was breathless when he reached her.
"I don't like to have you come alone through the wood, Veronica," he said, "I thought I should be in time, but I could not get rid of those two fellows. I tried to get away two or three times, but they always had something more to say, and kept me."
"Where were you, Dietrich?"
"They had some business with me; that is, Jost had something to tell me, and Blasi was there too. Jost did not care to speak of it on the open street, and so we went into the Rehbock; and that is what made me so late. Why, what's the matter, Veronica? Are you ill?"
She was as pale as a ghost.
"What! You've been to the Rehbock, Dietrich!" she exclaimed in evident distress. "Oh, don't go there! Please don't go to that place again!"
"Oh, now we are to have the old story over again, are we?" said the young man, laughing, "you have taken some foolish whim into your head; you really don't know why yourself. What's your prejudice against that house in particular?"
"I do know why; and it is no whim," said Veronica, earnestly. "I will tell you all about it. That house has been a terror to me ever since I can remember anything. We were both so young that you probably do not recollect it at all. We both went with mother to the doctor's, but you didn't go into the house, I remember now. Mother told the doctor that my father was killed at the Rehbock. I have never forgotten it since. I am constantly seeing him lying dead before my eyes; lying there struck down dead. I often dream about it, and in my dreams I am there—and—and sometimes when I look at his dead form in my dreams, it is not my father any more, but it is you—you, Dietrich, whom they have struck down dead at the Rehbock."
Dietrich was going to laugh at these words, but he glanced into Veronica's face and was silent. She was more in earnest than he had thought. He tried to quiet and reassure her, by saying that it was only a dream, and nothing to be afraid of. The dream came naturally enough, because she was always dwelling upon the tragedy of her father's death, and in dreams every one knows that faces are always changing. His explanation, however, did not make much impression upon Veronica. She said no more about it; but not all Dietrich's efforts were sufficient to chase the shadows from her face that evening, although he exerted himself to be even more amusing than usual. Gertrude observed her silence, as they sat about the table, and looked anxiously at her. When they had separated for the night, Dietrich went into his mother's room to have a talk with her. He told her what Veronica had said, and begged her to reason with the young girl and urge her to lay aside these groundless fears which had taken possession of her. He represented to his mother, that of course he sometimes had things to talk over with his companions, and that there surely was no harm in their going to the Rehbock together for their conversations, and he begged her to make Veronica see the whole affair in a reasonable light. Gertrude was shocked to find that the child had heard and understood what she had said to the doctor, and distressed that she had taken it so much to heart. She promised to speak to Veronica, but she also cautioned her son against forming an intimacy with Jost and Blasi. Dietrich cheerfully gave his word; declaring that he was not particularly fond of their company. The mother, however, on further consideration, decided to say nothing on the subject to Veronica, for she thought the whole thing would be the sooner forgotten if not spoken of, and she believed it unwise to stir up the terrors of the past.
The next afternoon, Dietrich left home much earlier than usual, determined not to be belated again, and hoping to escape altogether his too insistent companions. But scarcely had he reached the garden gate when he came upon Blasi, who was lying in wait for him. Dietrich tried to pass him quickly, and to show him that his company was not desired, but in vain Blasi had not been waiting round half an hour to be turned off like that. He explained that he was in worse trouble than ever to-day, and wished to borrow more money than ever before; promising, of course, to pay it back very soon; "that is, as soon as possible," he added.
"Oh yes, well, when will it be possible, I wonder. How much have you paid me back, as yet, since you began to borrow of me?" said Dietrich angrily. "Let me go, Blasi, I've no time to spare."
But Blasi went along by his side, and before he had done talking, Jost joined them and held Dietrich fast by the other arm.
"Come, come," he cried, "I have something to tell you that will make you open your eyes, I guess. I came in a hurry on purpose not to miss you. I've just come from the Rehbock, and I told them to keep the little back room for us, so that we can talk quietly, without danger of being interrupted. Come along, I say."
"I will not," said Dietrich, freeing his arm from the other's detaining grasp. "I haven't time, and I don't believe you have anything special to tell me, either. I must go." And Dietrich strode away; but Jost followed him.
"Don't be such a fool," he called out angrily, "can't you listen when I tell you that I know something decidedly to your advantage. Something that you'll be glad to know. You are running away because of her, and it is something that will be good for her as well as for you. So do stand still, and don't go scampering off as if the gamekeepers were after you!" But Dietrich did not stop.
"What do you know about her, or her good?" he asked furiously. "Mind your own business and let us alone."
As Jost had his own interest in winning the young fellow over, he controlled himself, and said in most soothing tones,
"Dietrich, I am your friend. Some day you will be very grateful to me. As you are in such a hurry, I will not stop you now; only promise me to come over bye-and-bye for a few minutes to the Rehbock; there's a good fellow, and you will not be sorry. Will you come?"
"Well, I've no particular objection to that," said Dietrich, and ran off as fast as he could.
Blasi, who had kept pace with the other two, seeing that there was no chance for him now, turned back with Jost, and the two went into the Rehbock together.
Dietrich met Veronica quite the other side of the wood. He did his best to rouse her from her silent mood, and to restore her to better spirits; but he found it impossible to efface the impression she had received the evening before. The painful memory had been too deeply stamped upon her mind, to be easily wiped out.
When the little family had bade each other good-night, after their usual affectionate conversation, Dietrich hesitated about keeping his half-made promise. He did not want to go; yet Jost's words, that the affair touched her as nearly as it did him, had made their intended impression, and though it went sadly against his grain to know that Jost dared even to think about Veronica and her interests at all, still he could not help wondering what it was all about. Suddenly his resolution was taken; he turned about, went down stairs and softly left the house.
Jost was standing in the doorway of the Rehbock, looking out into the night to see if Dietrich was coming. They went at once into the little back room. Blasi was there, sitting behind a big empty bowl; indeed he never sat long behind a full one, for as the bowl was there to be emptied he thought the quicker it was done the better.
"I'm glad you have come," he cried out, "for we've run quite dry here."
Dietrich perceived that he was expected to counteract the dryness; so he ordered some beer, and when this was supplied Jost began in a cautious tone,
"I have something to say to you, Dietrich, that I don't care for those outside to hear. Blasi can stay, because he is our comrade."
"And because he can be made useful," said Dietrich readily, for he knew of old that Jost was in the habit of rushing Blasi forward, where he did not dare to go himself.
"I don't know about that," said Jost, "but now listen to me. Do you know how a fellow who hasn't so much as a penny in his purse, can in one night get enough to build a big stone house, like the one the landlord of the lion has in Fohrensee, and make himself a gentleman all at once? I know how; I know somebody who has explained it all to me, and I tell you, Dietrich, you have only to say the word, and you can do the same, and give up the whole saddler's business. You can afford to risk something; you're not stupid; and with you it will all go right in a twinkling."
"Do you mean by card-playing?" asked Dietrich rather contemptuously, for he had made up his mind about that long ago.
"No indeed, something very different. It is done on paper. You have nothing to do but put some money down, and you can win two or three times as much in no time."
"And lose four times, I suppose?"
"There's no losing about it;" said Jost confidently, "You're sure to win in the end, if you keep on long enough. It doesn't signify if you do lose a little at first—you can afford to wait."
"I think my trade is surer of winning;" said Dietrich.
"Oh yes, sure enough!" said Jost scornfully. "It is a pretty sight to see a fellow like you, sitting there year after year on the saddler's bench, scraping all the skin off his hands; and with all the income you have, too! why in ten years you won't have as much as will build you a house such as you want, and it would take ten years more to become a gentleman; and she'd like it a great deal better to have something nice now, and not wait till she is fifty years old."
Dietrich was red with anger.
"What business is it of yours to be forever thinking and talking about her?" he blazed out. "You have no concern with her whatever; just keep yourself to what you're fit for."
"Why do go on as you do?" asked Jost with a knowing wink. "Do you suppose it never enters anybody's head to ask why you keep on working and delving as if you liked it? Can't we guess who you're doing it all for?"
"And it's not at all out of the way to be thinking about her, either," interposed Blasi, "there's another ready enough to do that if there were any chance for him," and he winked significantly at Jost. Jost took no notice of the insinuation, but went on, addressing himself to Dietrich.
"There's no danger for you in this plan. We will share losses and gains alike, and if we do not like it we can leave off when ever we choose. But I don't see why we shouldn't like it, when we can earn so much with so little trouble, and without working from morning till night. There goes somebody now, who has all he wants, I should like to be in his place!"
A wagon was rattling by as he spoke, and its occupant was urging the galloping horse faster and faster along the road.
"That's the doctor," said Dietrich, looking out; "he has had to work hard enough and is still at it. He must be going to visit a very sick patient; he would not be driving at that rate for anything else. It is late for the old gentleman to be out."
"Work!" said Jost, "well, I speak for that kind of work; sitting in a chaise behind a horse. It's another part of speech to have to work with one's hands, as we do."
"The doctor has to work with his hands too, I'm sure of that. And besides, we have our evenings to ourselves, while he may be kept at it till eleven o'clock at night, as he is this evening, and later."
"Oh drop all this stupid talk and give us an answer; yes or no. Will you be a fool and go on pricking your fingers over your work, or will you join me and have things comfortable without working at all? Anybody but you would be grateful to me for the chance I offer you. I came to you with it because of our old friendship. I know plenty of fellows who would jump at the chance. You can think it over till tomorrow, and then I'm sure you'll be glad to accept. I'll meet you here to-morrow evening, and bring some one with me who will explain it all clearly."
Dietrich agreed to think about it till to-morrow, and now, in high good-humor and increasing confidence in the coming good-fortune, he helped Blasi and Jost to empty the bowl, in a toast to the success of their new projects.
It was Veronica's habit to work on her embroidery for some time after going up to her bedroom, and this evening she was so much interested in her work, that she did not observe the flight of time, until she heard the clock strike one. She put by her sewing, and hastened to prepare for bed, as she must be up and stirring again by five o'clock. Presently she heard the outer door opened softly, and then closed from the inside. She blew out her light and gently opened her bed-room door. The moon lighted up the passageway with a faint beam. Some one came stealing up the staircase with noiseless steps. She saw that it was Dietrich. He went cautiously into his room and closed his door.
Veronica shut her door, and sat down upon her bed. All the blood seemed to rush to her heart and she could not stir. She knew in a moment that Dietrich, whom she had believed to be asleep long ago, had been visiting in secret the hated Rehbock. She sat some minutes motionless on her bed, in a kind of dull pain. Then she arose slowly, lighted her lamp again, took out her work and with nervous fingers drove on her needle, which flew faster and faster through the white cloth. She did not sleep at all that night.
Nor did Dietrich fall asleep easily. His thoughts were busy and he could not come to any decision. What should he do?
If he could become rich at once, without working any more, why shouldn't he do it? Would it be best to consult his mother? No, that would upset everything. He was sure that his mother was too firmly wedded to the old ideas about ways of getting a living, to listen to any new-fangled methods of making money without work.
Certainly not Veronica, who valued work above everything, and who indeed loved it so well, that she could not imagine that any one should ever wish to escape it.
But if he were successful, both his mother and Veronica would profit by his good fortune as much as himself. Why couldn't he go on with his own plans in his own way? Why need he ask leave of Veronica?
Before he slept, Dietrich had decided to meet Jost the next evening, and close with his offer.
When Gertrude came down stairs early in the morning, she found the breakfast ready, and Veronica dressed to go out.
"Wait just a moment," said the mother, "Dietrich will be down directly; I hear him coming."
"I must be off," replied Veronica. She went towards the door, but turned before going out. Her cheeks were flaming.
"Mother," she said, and her voice trembled, "in God's name, forbid him to go to that dreadful place. He did not come home till one o'clock last night." And she vanished. Gertrude gazed after her in surprise.
When Dietrich came down, he asked in his usual bright fashion, after Veronica, and when his mother with some anxiety told him what the girl had said, he made his explanation with such a frank, unembarrassed manner, that her fears were quieted; for it was plain that he had nothing upon his conscience. He said that he knew his mother would approve of his helping a friend in need, and not the less if in so doing he should also help himself. It was a scheme of this kind that he had been talking over, the night before. Jost had to work very hard to make both ends meet, and Dietrich thought that if by putting some money into his scheme, he could help his old acquaintance to more profit with less labor, and at the same time gain by it himself, his mother would be the last to blame him.
Gertrude was a soft-hearted woman. She answered her son that if there was nothing wrong about this business, it was certainly a good thing to help Jost, who had received nothing from his father, not even tools for his trade, and who had seemed to have everything against him.
"With you it was very different, my boy," she said in conclusion. "Your father left you an excellent business, and if you continue to work as you have done, you will be very well off in a few years. How kindly the good God has dealt with us, my son! We may hope for many happy days together!"
He agreed with her cordially, but he thought it as well not to unfold his plans to her any farther. He said to himself that he was not going to do anything wrong, certainly not; but his mother's ideas were a little old-fashioned, and she wouldn't understand his schemes. He would surprise her with his success.
LAME SABINA GIVES GOOD ADVICE.
Veronica's teacher, Sabina, had been a hunchback from her birth, and had become lame when still young; she had used crutches since she was twenty years old. Like many persons who suffer under physical disabilities, she had clever penetrating eyes, and on this day, she often raised them from the work which she was pursuing with indefatigable industry, to glance at her pupil, who sat opposite. Veronica was at work on the same piece which she had had at home on the previous night, that night which she had passed in such sad forbodings.
After many inquiring glances, Sabina at last said thoughtfully:
"I'm puzzled about you, Veronica. That piece of work you are upon, is wonderfully well done; every stitch is perfectly even, the cloth and the silk are as white as snow; yet you must have done most of it at night, for yesterday afternoon you were not nearly so far along. Whatever you put your hand to, succeeds. Yet your eyebrows grow more and more scowling every day, and your eyes blaze out as if there were a thunder-storm about. What ails you, child? You are the handsomest girl in all the country round when you have a pleasant expression; and you are as tall and straight as a young fir-tree. Don't you know that?"
"What good does it do me?" asked Veronica, and scowled worse than ever.
"What good? if you did not have it you would know what it is worth," replied Sabina, quickly. "I can tell you that. Now smooth your forehead, Veronica, and listen to me. I will tell you something that will make you feel better and happier. An Industrial School has been established in Fohrensee and it is proposed to connect with it a work-room for women. They want a teacher and superintendent, and have offered me the place, but I am not strong enough for it. I have told them that you are fully equal to me in skill and knowledge of the work, and a hundred times my superior in freshness and strength and executive ability. There is no doubt that the place is at your disposal. You can lead the life of a lady, Veronica. Your fortune is made."
For the first time since Sabina began to speak, Veronica raised her eyes from her work. She shook her head sadly and said,
"Not my fortune."
"'Not my fortune!'" repeated Sabina angrily, "when I tell you this place is yours! Your fortune is made."
"I cannot grasp the fortune that is offered me," said the girl, and bent over her work again.
Sabina's searching glance seemed to try to penetrate her inmost thought.
"What sort of an expression is that you are using, Veronica? Where did you learn that? I never expected to hear such words from your lips. It is not like you. What put that into your head, child?"
"I will tell you something of my experience, and then you will understand why I use this expression," said Veronica quietly. "When I was only a little girl I learned a motto which ran thus:
'Fortune stands ready, full in sight; He wins, who knows to grasp it right.'
I saw that 'fortune' was something good to have, and I wanted to find out how it could be grasped. I asked Cousin Judith, and she told me it must be grasped like everything else with our hands, that is to say, through work. From that time forward I was eager for work as other children are for play, and the older I grow, the more I strive for the good fortune that can be grasped by work. Even on Sundays I often go to my room to sew, and I shut my door, for my mother does not like to see me sew then. I work on and on, just as long as I can sit at it, even into the night; sometimes till one and two o'clock in the morning; yet I do not find the fortune I want. When my hands are busy, my thoughts wander where they will, and I must follow them. But they do not lead to 'fortune,' but only farther away from it. This offer may bring me a fortune in money and position, but that is not the fortune I want. 'Fortune' for me, means happiness."
Sabina had not lost a word of this sad story.
"Yes, yes, I understand you, Veronica," she said sympathizingly. "I know something of this too. Judith told you the truth, but only one half the truth. Fortune is grasped by the hands, it is true; but the Fortune which you long for, that is, Happiness, is to be gained in other ways besides. I will tell you an instructive little story, and if you will take the trouble to grasp it, not with your hands, but with your thoughts and understanding, you will be able to work it out for yourself and get some profit from it. It is part of the story of my own life. I have had so much the same experience as yours that I cannot help hoping that what I found good for myself, may prove good for you."
"When I was about your age, Veronica, I was so unhappy that I cried myself to sleep every night. Can you guess why? No, for one understands only the sufferings that he has himself experienced, and cannot imagine those of others. Well, it was because I was a hunchback! I remember as if it were yesterday, when I first came to a perception of my misfortune; when I first learned that I was different from other children, and must remain as one apart, all my life. We were all coming out of school one day, and a little quarrel arose between us children, and one of them said to me in a scornful tone, 'Hold your tongue, Sabina, you're only a hunchback.' From that day I never knew a happy moment, and I grew timid and avoided every one; if I saw any one looking at me, I thought he was scoffing at me because I was a hunchback. I kept away from other children, for if one of them laughed, I fancied she was laughing at my deformed shoulders. If any stranger was kind to me, I thought that it was because my hunch had not yet been seen, and that as soon as it was, kindness would be changed for contempt. I looked at the figure of every one I met; all were straight except myself. I felt that I was the most miserable creature in the world, and I saw no hope of ever being otherwise all my life long. Once one of the school children died, and all her schoolmates walked in the funeral procession to the church. I would not walk with them, but hid myself among the grown people; for every one was looking at the children and I wanted to escape observation. I heard one woman say to another: 'It is lucky the child's mother has so much to do; she will have no time to think about her sorrow, and she will get over it the sooner,' Then it came to me like a ray of hope, that if I had work to do, I might forget my sorrow too. I must have work. That very day I begged my mother to let me learn to work. She was pleased, and sent me to take lessons in sewing, and I followed it up till I could do all sorts of fine work, and had as much employment as I could wish. I often heard people say, 'How finely Sabina is getting on!' But how do you think it was with my spirits? Just as it is with yours now, Veronica. Oh yes, you needn't look at me so with your great eyes. I know exactly what you are thinking. You think that my trouble never can have been equal to yours. People always think that their own sorrows are the worst. I sat and sewed just as you do—early and late; my work was perfect; I had no rival. I knew that it was good, and I rejoiced over it in a half-hearted way; but what good did it do me after all? The thought that I was a hunchback, was always in my mind. It was like a stream of troubled water flowing through my heart; it spoiled everything. 'Always deformed, never like other girls,' I never forgot it for a moment. So it went on till I was about twenty years old, and then came on the trouble in my foot, and I was confined to my bed for many months. Oh! how bitterly I suffered! Was every misfortune to fall on me alone?' I thought. How could I foresee that this very trouble would turn out to be good fortune for me?"
"The doctor came to see me constantly; he took as much interest in my case as if I could have paid him handsomely.
He noticed that I was industrious, that I did not lie idle even when I was in great pain. It pleased him to find me always with work in my hand. When at last the acute attack was over, and the doctor told me that this would be his last visit, he told me also that I was lame for life. At first I could not walk at all; but bye and bye I learned to use my crutches. When I offered the doctor the money that was due him for his attendance, he said we would not speak of that; that we both had to work, but with this difference, that he was sound and whole, while I was not. He took my hand kindly, saying that it was hard for me not to be able to take any amusement after working hard all the week; not to go out with the others on Sunday; and that if I cared for reading, his wife had a great many nice books which she would be glad to lend me, and they would make the Sundays less tedious. I did not really care for reading; I preferred sewing as you do, but I accepted the doctor's offer and went to his house. His wife was very kind and gave me a book at once, bidding me come as soon as I had finished it and get another. I began to read the very next Sunday, and I became so deeply interested that I scarcely laid the book down all day, and even during the week I took it up as often as I could find a spare moment. It was an account of foreign countries and nations; how they lived, and their manners and customs. I was particularly interested to read about how the women were treated in different places; how in some countries they are sold and bartered for cattle or wool or cloth, and how they belong to their husbands just as if they were furniture, and their husbands can treat them just as they please, as we do cats or dogs. And in some places, it said, a wife has to be burned when her husband dies, because she is only a part of him and has no value of her own after his death. Oh! how many strange things there are in the world, to be sure! I became hungry and thirsty for knowledge. The doctor's wife lent me one book after another, and in each there was something new and wonderful. I learned how terrible the condition of women had been everywhere until our own Lord Jesus Christ came into the world, and taught that one soul was as much worth as another, all equal, man and woman, lord and servant; that every individual must be free, one as well as another; and that two people should be joined together only by love, and not as a matter of ownership. But even now-a-days there are still countries and islands where men make nothing of killing and eating each other, and the women are bought and sold like goods. It is only where the influence of Christianity has penetrated, that there is true equality of womanhood. You can imagine the flood of new ideas that crowded in upon me as I read, and I assure you that I was able to forget sometimes for many days that I was a hunchback, and when I did remember it, the thought had lost its sting. I dwelt upon the many privations and sufferings of others, till they seemed to outweigh my own trouble so that it dwindled in my estimation; and gradually I began to see the good side of my lot. How independently I could live supporting myself; what a wealth of interest was opened to me through my reading, and in fact how fortunate I was, and blessed beyond many another! Yes, Veronica, I can assure you that I am now a happy woman, with a heart filled with gratitude to the good God for the blessings he has sent me. And so I say to you, my child, from the fulness of my own experience, that you have no right to go about looking like a thunder-cloud; you with all the freshness and beauty of your young life!
Tell me do you owe our Lord God something or is He in debt to you? Have you nothing to thank him for? Others can see how much you have to look forward to. Get yourself together, girl, and try to give your thoughts another direction."
"I should be only too glad to do so," said Veronica, who had listened intently to every word that Sabina had said. "Have you any such book as you describe, that you can lend me to read?"
Sabina was well pleased at this request. She had a book close at hand, which she had just finished reading, and from which she expected great things for the young girl. Veronica was moved by Sabina's glowing words, to believe that her future might be happier, and that the clouds of despondency which had overshadowed her, were about to be dispersed.
She lost no time, for she was in earnest. She opened the book that very evening, and began to read. But her sanguine expectations were not fulfilled. She read the words, she understood their meaning; but it was as if she heard them at a distance and through them all, louder than all else, sounded something in her ears and in her heart that drowned them. It was the flow of the troubled waters, as Sabina had said. The waves rose higher; their noise increased, until Veronica lost all hearing and understanding of what she was reading. Still she persevered; perhaps bye-and-bye it would come right. Alas! was not that the house door opening and shutting again so softly late in the night? She flung the book aside; walked rapidly back and forth in her chamber for awhile, then unfolded her sewing, and worked steadily on and on, until the morning broke and a new day called her to its duties.
A THUNDER CLAP.
Blasi, the lounger, stood in his doorway in the clear sunshine of this lovely summer morning, both hands plunged deep into his pockets as was his wont, and looked about him as if to see whether everything in the outer world was the same as yesterday.
Judith came out to the well, carrying her water-jug on her head.
"Look out, Blasi, you are losing something," she cried. Blasi looked on the ground, turned about, and searched behind and before.
"I don't see anything," he said, and stuffed his hands deeper into his pockets.
"It's always so with me," said Judith, "when I've lost anything, I can't see it."
"Oh ho, you're making a fool of me again!"
"That's all the thanks I get for telling you that you are losing something, and I was just going to make you a present that is worth more than five francs to a fellow like you."
"What is it? Show it to me," said Blasi, with more animation.
"First I will tell you something, and then you shall have it," replied Judith. "Look here, Blasi, my sainted father used to say, "If you keep your hands out of your pockets they will get full, but if you keep them in, your pockets will be empty." Now, both your hands are in your pockets, so all that ought to go in is running to waste. Isn't that so?"
"Well, suppose it is," said Blasi, angrily. "Now give me what you promised me."
"I gave it to you this very minute. I said you'd better take your hands out of your pockets, and then your earnings would run in. That's good advice and worth more than five francs.
"What stuff! No one ever knows how to take you," grumbled Blasi.
"It wouldn't help you to take me, if you did not take your hands out too," said Judith, "but never mind, I have really something good for you," and Judith motioned to him to come nearer. "Would you like to have a nice well-washed shirt for Sunday? I will do one up for you if you will tell me something."
That was an offer worth listening to. Sunday was a wretched day for Blasi, for when he had turned his two shirts and worn them both on both sides, he had never a clean one for Sunday. He had no one to wash for him. His mother was dead, and his father had enough else to spend for, without the washing for a grown-up son. Blasi's money went for other things than washing, and he was not fond of doing it for himself.
The proposition was therefore very apropos. "Come a little nearer to the well; no one knows who may be behind those trees. Now listen; Can you tell me what is going wrong with Dietrich? He never whistles now, he never laughs, and his mother looks so sad, and she rarely speaks even to answer when spoken to. Something has happened to Dietrich."
"Yes, and keeps on happening; all sorts of things, too. But Jost can tell you more than I can. They sit together in the Rehbock half the night and more, too; long after everybody else has gone, there they sit in the little back room. At first they do just as other people do, they drink a little and then a little more, and Dietrich pays. But that's nothing to what it costs him afterwards. They do something with paper, he and Jost. Sometimes it is a lottery and then again something that they call speculating. I don't understand anything about it. Somebody comes over from Fohrensee and explains it to them. He does not belong there; but I guess you have seen him; he has fiery red hair, and red beard and red face. He has business in Fohrensee once a week, and lives the rest of the time down in the city; and he arranges everything down there, and then brings the account of gains and losses up to them; but it's a good deal more loss than gain. Dietrich puts in more money every time. Jost has nothing to put in but promises. He tells Dietrich all the time that presently the winnings will begin to flow in, and says that at first a fellow must expect to lose, so as to win all the more in the end, and that bye-and-bye it will all come back; with interest, of course. The red-haired man says yes to it all. Whenever I want to put something in, and ask Dietrich to lend me a little to try with, Jost acts as if he were the lord and master of the whole concern, and 'donkey' is the mildest name he calls me. I am just waiting though, till I can trip him up, and I'll do it with a vengeance too, so that he won't forget it all his life long."
"Now that is a good idea," said Judith. "You'd better tell him then, that you do it to pay your debts, and that it would be well for him to follow your example. Now you have told me enough. Bring me your shirt on Saturday, and I'll wash it for you."
Judith lifted her water-jug and was turning away, but Blasi detained her.
"Just wait one moment, I want to ask you a question. Do you think she will have him?"
The question seemed to interest Judith, for she stood stock still.
"Who? whom? what do you mean?"
"I mean Veronica and Jost. Do you think she will take him?" As Blasi spoke he came slowly nearer to Judith. "He has been saying some things lately, that made me think so."
"If you know anything more stupid than that, I should like to hear it," cried Judith very angry indeed; but she did not move away, for she wanted to hear all that Blasi had to say.
"I know what you mean," he went on, "but I am not so very stupid as you think. It certainly means something, when she is so changed. Jost says that she knows all that Dietrich has been about, and she is hot with anger against him because he has not told her about it himself. Jost says that if he only mentions Dietrich's name before her she looks like a wild-cat in a moment, and he says too that he has noticed for some time, that she has no objection to letting Dietrich see that she can get along very well without his help, and you know that she is capable of anything when she's angry."