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When Otto and his sister came noisily in through the deep stone entrance of their father's house, the old servant Trine appeared in a doorway holding a light high above her head to see whence came all the uproar, and from whom. "So," at last she said, half scoldingly, half pleasantly; "your mother has been asking for you for a long time, but there was no trace of you, although it struck eight nobody knows how long ago." Old Trine had been maid-servant in the family when the children's mother came into the world, so she was an authority in the household, and felt that she was one of its members,--to tell the truth, the very head of the establishment; for surely she was the oldest in age and experience. The dear old woman was fairly foolish in her fondness for her master's children, and very proud of all their qualities and acquisitions. She would not let this be seen, however, but employed an indignant tone when speaking to them; for she thought it best for their education not to appear perfectly satisfied with their conduct.
"Off with your shoes, on with your slippers!" she called out at once, according to rule; but her order was immediately executed by the commander, for she knelt before Otto while she spoke, to take off his wet shoes. He had sunk down upon the nearest seat. His little sister stood perfectly still in the middle of the room without stirring, which was such an unusual circumstance, that Trine looked over her shoulder two or three times to see what it could mean. Now that Otto was equipped, it was Pussy's turn to sit down and be attended to; but she stood stock still, and did not stir. "Well, well! if we wait there until summer comes, our shoes will get dry of themselves," said Trine, still on her knees. "Hsh, hsh, Trine! I hear something. Who is in the big parlor?" said Pussy, lifting her forefinger up a little threateningly. "Everybody who has dry shoes: nobody else admitted. Now make up your mind to sit down," said Trine. But instead of sitting down, Pussy made a spring upward, and cried, "Now I hear it again; Uncle Max laughs just like that." "What!" cried Otto, and reached the parlor-door with one leap.
"Wait, wait!" Pussy called after him, and ran to the door at the same time; but she was caught and placed on the seat, although old Trine had hard work to get the shoes off the little kicking feet; but perseverance at last accomplished the business, and off ran Pussy out of one door and through the other into the big parlor, where truly sat Uncle Max in the arm-chair. Now there was a fine jubilee, and a hugging and kissing over and over. Uncle Max certainly made as much noise as the children, and it was a long time before they were quieted enough to speak a rational word to each other. A visit from this uncle was always a time of great delight for the children, and with good reason, for he was extravagantly fond of them. He was a great traveller, and only came to see them once in two years; but then he made up for his long absence by giving himself entirely to his little friends as if he were no older than they; and the queer and enchanting presents that he had stuffed into every pocket for his little niece and nephew would be hard to describe.
Uncle Max was a naturalist, and travelled to every corner of the world, bringing back something curious and interesting from each place.
At last supper was served, to the immense satisfaction of the whole party,--for the children always brought home new appetites from the coasting-ground, and were prepared, both old and young, to do full justice to the steaming dishes set before them.
"Well," said Colonel Ritter, glancing across the table at his little daughter, who was seated beside her mother, and already too busily engaged in satisfying her hunger to look up from her plate. "Well, well; it seems rather strange to think that Pussy has no hand to spare for her papa to-day. I have not had one single kiss, and now it is too late."
With a contrite air Pussy pushed back her plate, saying, "O papa, I forgot! I will give you"--
But her father said, quickly, "No, no; do not make a disturbance now, child. Give me your hand across the table; we will have the rest later. That will do now, Pussy."
"What was this child christened, Marie? I was certainly present at the ceremony, but I have utterly forgotten her name. Not Pussy, I am sure," said Uncle Max, laughing.
"You certainly were present, Max," replied his sister, "for you are the child's godfather. She was named Marie. At this time her father nicknamed her Pussy, and Otto has multiplied that in the most nonsensical manner."
"Oh, no, mamma; not nonsensical," cried Otto, quite seriously. "You see, uncle, it follows in very sensible order. When the little thing is gentle and good, then I call her 'Pussy.' That is not always the case, however, and 'Puss' does for some of her moods; but when she is angry, and looks like a regular cross-patch, then I call her 'Old Cat.'"
"Yes, yes, Otto," answered his sister; and when you are angry, you look like a--like a"--
"Like a man," said Otto; and as Pussy had no better comparison ready, she went on busily eating her pudding.
Uncle Max laughed heartily. "Pussy is right," he said. "She does far better in pursuing her present occupation than in answering back such slanders. But, children," he began again, after a pause, "it is more than a year since I was here, and you have not told me about any thing that has taken place during my absence."
The latest events were those that occurred first to the children; and they began to tell, generally both speaking together, the story of Cheppi's rude treatment of Wiseli on the coast, and of how cold the girl was, and how she stood shivering in the snow, and had no sled of her own, but got a chance to coast down twice after all.
"That is right, Otto," said his father. "You must honor your name. You must always be a true knight for the persecuted and unprotected. Who is this Wiseli?"
"You cannot know any thing about the girl nor her mother," said his wife. "But Uncle Max knows Wiseli's mother very well. You remember that thin weaver who was our neighbor, don't you, brother? He had an only daughter with big brown eyes, who often came to us at the parsonage, and sang so sweetly. Can't you remember her now?"
While Uncle Max was trying to recall the somewhat fading recollections of his youth, old Trine put her head into the room, saying,--
"The carpenter Andrew would like to speak to you, Mrs. Ritter, if it will not disturb you too much."
This apparently innocent message produced a wonderful effect upon the whole family. Mrs. Ritter put down the tablespoon, with which she was about to help her brother a second time to fruit, and said hastily, "If you will excuse me, gentlemen," and left the room. Otto sprang up so quickly that he knocked his chair over backwards, and then fell over it himself in his haste to get away. Pussy was about to follow the others; but her uncle, seeing the movement, put his arms about her, and held her fast. She struggled, however, and said, entreatingly,--
"Let me go, uncle; let me go. Really, I must go."
"Where do you want to go, Pussy?"
"To see the carpenter Andrew. Let me go quickly. Help, papa; help!"
"If you will tell me what you have to say to the carpenter, I will let you go."
"The sheep has only two legs left, and no tail at all; and the carpenter is the only person who can mend him. Now do let me go!" And now Pussy was off too.
The gentlemen looked at each other, and Max burst out into a merry laugh. "Who is this carpenter Andrew, pray, who seems to have the power of attracting your whole family to his feet?"
"You ought to be able to answer that question better than I," replied the colonel. "He must also be one of the friends of your youth. The fever of adoration you ought to understand also: it must be one of your family characteristics; and your sister has introduced it into her family. I can only tell you this much: this Andrew is the very corner-stone of my house. Every thing depends upon him, and we should all fall to pieces if his support were withdrawn from us. Andrew is the counsellor, comforter, safety, and aid in any trouble. If my wife thinks she wants any utensil for household use, even if she does not know how it should look, nor what use to put it too, Andrew the carpenter invents it, and makes it on the spot. If the kitchen is on fire, or the water gives out there, or in the laundry, Andrew the carpenter smothers the fire, and procures floods of water. If my son does some sad piece of mischief, Andrew the carpenter repairs the damage in a trice. If my daughter smashes all the crockery, Andrew the carpenter glues it together at once. So you see that this man is really the very pillar of my edifice; and if any thing should happen to him, we should straightway go to pieces."
Mrs. Ritter had returned to the room during this account of Andrew the carpenter's virtues, and her husband had heightened the description for her benefit. Uncle Max shouted with laughter.
"Yes, laugh away; laugh away!" said she. "For all that, I know very well what a treasure I possess in Andrew the carpenter."
"So do I, for that matter," said her husband, laughing merrily.
"I do, too," said Pussy, heartily, who was again on her seat at table.
"So do I," grumbled Otto, while he rubbed his shins, that ached from his recent fall over the chair.
"Well, now we are all of one mind about it, and the children can go quietly to bed," said their mother. These words did not tend to restore quiet, for the children became rebellious; but it was useless. Old Trine stood on the threshold, and was ready to carry out the family rules and regulations. Off marched the children, and presently their mother also disappeared again; for there were the evening prayers to be said, and she never failed to be at their bedside for that.
When, at last, every thing was in order in the house, Mrs. Ritter joined the gentlemen once more.
"At last!" said the colonel, with a sigh of relief, as if he had vanquished the enemy. "Now you see how it is, Max. My wife belongs first of all to the carpenter Andrew, then to the children, and only to her husband when there is nothing else for her to do."
"And now you see, Max," said his sister, laughing, "that, although my husband speaks scornfully of Andrew the carpenter, he does assign him a very high rank after all. Now acknowledge that, won't you? He has just given me a message for you. He has brought his yearly savings with him to-day, and begs for your assistance."
"That is true," said the colonel. "A more orderly, industrious, reliable man I do not know. I would trust my wife, my children, my goods and chattels to him rather than to any one else. He is the most honorable, trustworthy man in this parish, or in any other, I do believe."
"Now you see, Max," said his sister, laughing, "I could not say more than that." Her brother joined with her in her amusement at the zest which the colonel showed. Then he said,--
"You have all been so full of the praises of your marvel, that I have become curious, at last, to know where he comes from, and how he looks. Have I never seen him when I have visited you?"
"Oh, yes! you used to know him perfectly well," replied his sister. "You must remember Andrew, with whom we went to school. Don't you recall the two brothers who were always in the same classes with you? The elder was even then a perfect good-for-nothing,--he was not stupid, but would not study, and did not get on, and was put down into one of the lower classes with his brother and you. You must remember him,--his name was Jorg, and he had stiff, black hair. He always pelted us with something whenever he got a chance,--with green apples or pears, and in winter with snow-balls,--and always called us 'aristocrats.'"
"Oh, that fellow!" cried Max. "Yes; now I do remember all about him. Certainly he always called us 'aristocrats.' I wonder how he got hold of that word. He was a disagreeable fellow: I remember that well. I caught him once thrashing a little fellow most cruelly. I helped the little one, and he shouted after me at least twelve times in succession, 'Aristocrat, aristocrat!' And now it comes back to me about the other one, the lean Andrew, his brother. He was your Andrew, was he not, Marie?--the Andrew with the violets? Oh, now I comprehend this great friendship," said Max, laughing again.
"What is this about the violets? I want to know all about that," said the colonel.
"Oh! I can see the whole thing just as it happened as plainly as if it were only yesterday," said Max, quite animated over his recollections. "I must tell you all about it, Otto. You have probably heard from your wife that we had here, in the happy time of our childhood, an old schoolmaster, whose creed was that all faults could be whipped out of, and all virtues be whipped into, the children under his care. So he felt himself constrained to whip a great deal either for one thing or the other, and very often for both at once. Andrew's turn came one day, and the master applied his well-meant rule so heartily that poor, thin Andrew screamed with pain. At this moment my little sister, who had only entered the school a short time before, and did not understand the rules very well, stood up from her seat and hastened to the door. The teacher held his hand for a moment, and shouted after her, 'Where are you running to?' Marie turned about. The tears were running down her cheeks, and she said, very decidedly, 'I am going home to tell my father.' 'Wait, I will teach you!' cried the master, in the greatest surprise, and sprung after the girl. He did not strike her, however, but took her roughly by the arm, and set her down very hard upon the bench; then he said again, 'Wait, I will teach you!'
"It was the end of that, however. He did not touch Andrew again, and every thing passed off quietly that day. But the tears that Marie had shed for Andrew, and her protest against the whippings, were not forgotten. From that day forward a big bunch of violets was always placed on Marie's desk, and the whole room was perfumed with them; and later a still better scent filled the air, for there were every day great bunches of dark red strawberries, such as nobody else knew how to find. And so it went on for the whole year; but how the friendship reached the height at which it now stands, that I will leave to my sister to relate, for I do not know myself."
The colonel was much pleased with this story of the tears and the violets, and begged his wife to tell more about it. She said, "According to you, Max, violets and strawberries grow all the year round; but, in truth, it is not exactly the fact. But it is true that the good Andrew was never tired of bringing in any thing that he thought would give me pleasure all through the time we were in the school together. He left long before I did, and went to learn his trade of a joiner in the city. He came home very often, however, so that I never really lost sight of him; and when my husband bought this piece of land and we were married, it happened, also, that Andrew bought property, and wished to be settled. He had lost his parents, and was quite by himself, and a first-rate workman. He wanted the little house with the neat, pretty garden down there half-way to the church; but was not able to purchase it, because the owner wished for full payment at once, and Andrew could only pay in instalments, as he earned the money.
"But we knew all about him and his work. My husband purchased the place for him, and he has never had the least reason to regret it."
"No, indeed I have not," added the colonel. "Andrew has long ago paid for his house, and now he always brings me the yearly amount of his labor; and a very pretty sum it is, too. I invest it well for him, and have a sincere satisfaction in the welfare of the sturdy fellow. He is already a very well-to-do man, and adds to his property every year, and can make his little house into a big one if he have a mind to do so, the good Andrew. It is too bad that he is such a hermit, and cannot, therefore, properly enjoy his home and his possessions."
"Has he, then, neither wife nor family?" asked Max. "And what has become of his disagreeable brother Jorg?"
"No; he has really nobody," replied his sister. "He lives entirely alone, and really like a hermit. He has had a long and very sad history that I have been witness to, and which has taken away all the desire he once might have felt to look for a wife. His brother Jorg wandered about here in a disreputable way for several years, never working, but in the hope of getting something, by his infamous behavior, out of his family, who were respectable people, quite unlike himself. But, at last, he saw that there was no chance of this, and even the kind Andrew refused to pay any more of his debts, or to help him out of any more scrapes, so he disappeared, nobody knows where; but everybody rejoiced that he was out of the way."
"What was the sad story of which you spoke, Marie?" asked her brother. "I want to hear that, too."
"So do I," said the colonel; and lighted another cigar, in order to enjoy the tale more thoroughly.
"But, my dear husband," objected his wife, "I have at least told you this story ten times over."
"Really," said the colonel, quietly, "it seems that it pleases me then, if I ask for it again."
"Oh, do begin!" said her brother.
"You cannot have forgotten the child, Max," began his sister, "of whom I was speaking yesterday, who lived quite near to us. She belonged to the pale, thin weaver, whose shuttle we could always hear moving back and forth when we stood in our garden. The child always looked clean and neat, and had great lively, sparkling eyes, and beautiful brown hair. Her name was Aloise."
"I never knew anybody by the name of Aloise in my life," interrupted Max at this point.
"Oh! to be sure not," said his sister. "We never called her so, you especially. 'Wisi' we called her, to the horror of our dear departed mother. Don't you remember, now, how often you said yourself that we must get Wisi to sing with us when mamma played songs for us on the piano, and we could not make it go at all without Wisi's help?"
At last Max seemed to remember about it, and laughed at the recollection. "Oh, yes! I remember Wisi," he cried. "Yes, certainly that was Wisi. I can see her now, before my eyes, with her bright face, as she stood by the piano and sang so cheerily. I was very fond of her. I was very fond of her,--of Wisi. She was very pretty, too. I remember, too, what a shock it always seemed to mamma when I said, 'Wisi.' I really never knew her proper name."
"Oh, yes, you did," replied his sister; "because mamma always said it was perfectly barbarous to change the pretty name of Aloise into 'Wisi.'"
"I certainly never heard it each time," said Max. "But pray what has become of this Wisi?"
"You remember she was in my class at school, and we kept along together; and I often think of how Andrew always befriended and stood up for the girl through thick and thin, and that she knew well how to turn his friendship to good account.
"When she came with her slate full of examples, like the rest of us, her figures were not often correct; but she put the slate, with a merry laugh, on her desk, and lo! soon the sums were all rightly set down, for Andrew had put them in order. It often happened that she smashed a pane in the schoolroom window, or shook down the schoolmaster's plums in the garden; and yet Andrew was always the one who took the blame of these misdeeds,--not that anybody accused him, but he himself used to say, half aloud, that he believed it was his fault that the glass was broken, or the plums shaken down, and so he got the punishment. We children all knew well enough who was to blame; but we let it go, we were so used to it, and were so fond of the merry Wisi, that we all were pleased when she escaped punishment.
"Wisi had always pocketfuls of apples, pears, and nuts, that all came from Andrew; for every thing that he had, or could procure, he used to stuff into Wisi's satchel. I used often to wonder how it happened that the quiet Andrew liked the very most unruly and gayest girl in the school, and I also wondered whether she returned his affection. She was always very friendly with him, but she was the same with others; and as I once asked our mother how it could be, she shook her head a little, and said, 'I am afraid,--I am afraid that the nice little Aloise is a trifle heedless, and may have to suffer for it.' These words gave me much food for thought, and recurred to me again and again.
"We went together to the Bible-class; and every Sunday evening Wisi used to come regularly to our house, and we sang hymns together to the piano. She particularly enjoyed this. She knew all the lovely songs by heart, and sang them clearly and well; and mamma and I were very much pleased to know that Wisi liked to sing, and went gladly to the Bible-class, and seemed to take the religious teaching very much to heart. She had grown into a fine large girl now, with bright eyes; and, although she did not look very strong, like the peasant girls in the villages, still she had a fine color, and was far prettier than any of them.
"At this time Andrew was learning his trade in the town, but invariably came home on Sundays. He always came up to the parsonage to call, and was inclined to talk to me about our former schooldays; and gradually we worked round to Wisi, and talked about her most of the time. Andrew spoke most eloquently and feelingly on this subject; and, although everybody else had adopted the name 'Wisi' for Aloise, he never called her so, but said 'Wiseli' so softly and prettily, that it was very sweet to hear.
"But one Sunday (we were not quite eighteen years old, Wisi and I,--mamma was with us that evening) Wisi came in looking very rosy, and said that she had come to tell us that she was betrothed to a young workman who had come lately to live in the village, and that they would soon be married, as he had a good position, and it was arranged that they could be married in about twelve days. I was so surprised, and so sorry, that I could not say a word. Neither did my mother speak for a long time, but looked very much troubled.
"After a time she talked very seriously with Wisi,--told her that it was foolish in her to have taken up so quickly with a workman of whom she really could know very little, and especially when there was another who had sought her for long years, and plainly shown her how much he loved her; and, at last, she asked her if it could not be broken off, this engagement,--or, at least, put off for a while, Wisi was still so young, and ought to remain with her father. Then Wisi began to cry, and said that it was all arranged; that she had given her promise, and that her father was pleased. So my mother said no more about it; but poor Wisi cried bitterly, until my mother took her by the hand, and led her to the piano, and said kindly, 'Dry your tears: we will sing together.' And she played the accompaniment, and we sang,--
"'To God you must confide Your sorrow and your pain; He will true care provide, And show you heaven again. "'For clouds and air and wind He points the path and way; Your road He'll also find, Nor let your footsteps stray.'
"After this, Wisi left us apparently comforted, and my mother spoke kindly to her at parting; but I felt very sadly about the whole affair. I had a conviction that poor Wisi had passed her happiest days, and would never be light-hearted again; and I could not express my sorrow for Andrew. What would he say? He said nothing,--not one word,--but went about for several years like a shadow, and became more silent than ever, and had no longer the quietly happy expression that formerly distinguished him."
"Poor fellow!" cried Max. "And did he never marry?"
"Oh, no, Max!" replied his sister, rather reproachfully. "How could he do so? How can you ask such a question? He is faithfulness personified."
"How could I know that, dearest sister?" said Max soothingly. "I could not be expected to know that your gifted and inestimable friend possessed also the quality of steadfastness. But tell me some more about Wisi. I hope, truly, that the merry creature was not unfortunate. It would grieve me sadly to think that."
"I see plainly, brother, that all your sympathies are secretly with Wisi; and that you are not sorry for the faithful Andrew, whose heart was nearly broken when he found that he had lost her."
"Yes, yes," said Max. "I have the greatest sympathy for the good fellow. But do tell me how it was with Wisi: did she cry her pretty eyes out?"
"Almost, I believe," replied Marie. "I did not see her very often, and she had a great deal of work to do. I believe that her husband was not a bad fellow; but there was something very rough about him, and he was rude and unkind even to his own little children. Wisi had a hard time of it. She had a good many pretty children; but they were very delicate, and she lost them one after the other. Five she buried, and has only now one tender little girl,--a little Wiseli,--who is not much larger than our Pussy, though she is several years older. Naturally Wisi's health has been sadly tried with all this, and it is plainly visible now that it has almost reached the end with her. She is rapidly wasting away in consumption. I fear that there is no hope for her."
"Oh!" cried Max, "is this possible? Is it really so bad as that? Can nothing be done, Marie? Let us look after her, and try if we cannot mend matters somewhat."
"Oh, no! there is no chance for her," said his sister, sadly. "From the very beginning Wisi was too delicate for all the work and care that came upon her."
"And what became of her husband?"
"Oh! I quite forgot the sad trouble that poor Wisi had to endure with him also.
"About a year ago, he broke an arm and a leg in the workshop, and was brought home half dead. He was very ill, and could not work, and certainly was not a patient sufferer. Wisi had the care of him in his sickness, in addition to every thing else, and he died about six months after the accident. Wisi has lived alone with her child since that time."
"Then there will soon be nothing left but a little Wiseli, and what will become of her? But, no; it will not turn out so sadly, I am sure. Wisi will get well, and every thing be right again, as it should have been in the beginning."
"No, not so, Max; it is too late for that," replied his sister, decidedly. "Poor Wisi had to suffer sadly for her folly. But it is too late indeed!" she said, rising, almost frightened to see that it was after midnight, and that the colonel, who had been silent for some time past, was now sleeping in his arm-chair.
Max was not in the least sleepy, however. All this story of poor Wisi had awakened in him such lively recollections of his childhood, that he wanted to talk about many other events and people; but his sister was not to be persuaded. She took her bed-candle, and insisted upon going to bed.
There was nothing to be done but to awaken his brother-in-law, which he did with such a tremendous thump on the back, that the colonel sprang up with the feeling that he had been struck by an enemy's bomb-shell. But Max tapped him kindly on the shoulder, saying, "It is only a gentle warning from your wife that we must all beat a retreat." This was accomplished, and soon the house on the height stood quietly in the moonlight; and half way down the hill stood another house, where it would soon be silent, too, though a still feeble light glimmered there, casting a pale shadow through the little window out into the brilliant moonlit night.
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