Maezli by Johanna Spyri
Chapter IX. In the Castle
The next afternoon, after planning a pleasant walk for Leonore and Maezli, Mrs. Maxa started on her way to the castle. As soon as she neared the grated iron door it opened wide, and holding his hat in his hand, Mr. Trius stood deeply bowing in the opening.
"May I see the Baron?" asked Mrs. Maxa.
After another reverence Mr. Trius led the visitor up the hill, and when he had duly announced her, invited her with a third bow to step forward. It was quite evident that Mr. Trius had been definitely ordered to change his usual mode of behaviour.
Mrs. Maxa now approached the chair near the pine tree.
"Have you really come, Mrs. Maxa?" said the sick man, putting out his hand. "Did no bitter feelings against the evil-doer keep you back?"
Mrs. Maxa pressed the proffered hand and replied, "I could wish for no greater joy, Baron, than to have your door opened for me. I have wondered oftener than you could think if this would ever happen, for I wanted an opportunity to serve you. I know no bitter feelings and never have known them. Everybody who has loved this castle and its inmates has known they suffered grief and pain."
"I returned to this old cave here to die," said the Baron. "You can see plainly that I am a broken man. I only wished to forget the past in this solitude, and I thought it right for me to die forgotten. Then your little girl came in here one day--I have not been able to discover how."
"Oh, please forgive her," said Mrs. Maxa. "It is a riddle to me, too, how she succeeded in entering this garden. I knew nothing about it till yesterday evening when the children came home from the castle. I am terribly afraid that Maezli has annoyed you."
"She has not done so at all, for she is her mother's true child," said the Baron. "She was so anxious to help me and to bring me what I lacked. Because she loved Leonore so much, she wanted me to know her, too, but I cannot understand Leonore. She begged and begged to be allowed to see her uncle, as she wished to live with him and love him like a father. She even longs to seek him out in a foreign country. What shall I do? Please give me your advice, Mrs. Maxa."
"There is only one thing to do, Baron," the lady replied with an overflowing heart. "God Himself has done what we never could have accomplished, despite all our wishes. The child has been led into your arms by God and therefore belongs to you from now on. You must become her father and let her love and take care of you. You will soon realize what a treasure she is, and through her the good old times will come back to this castle. You will grow young again yourself as soon as you two are here together."
The Baron replied: "Our dear Maxa always saw things in an ideal light. How could a delicate child like Leonore fit into a wilderness like this castle. Everything here is deserted and forlorn. Just think of the old watchman here and me, what miserable housemates we should be. Won't you receive the child in your house, for she clearly longs to have a home? I know that she will find one there and apparently has found it already. She can learn by and by who her uncle is and then she can come to visit him sometimes."
Amazed at this sudden change, Mrs. Maxa was silent for a while. How she would have rejoiced at this prospect a few days ago!
"I love Leonore like my own child and wanted nothing better than to keep her with me," she said finally, "but I think differently now. The children belong to you, and the castle of their fathers must become their home. You must let Leonore surround you with her delightful and soothing personality, which is sure to make you happy. When you come to know her you will soon realize of what I should have robbed you. There is no necessity at all for the castle to remain forlorn and empty. Despite the loss of our dear loved ones, the life here can again become as pleasant as in former times. Your mother always hoped that this would happen at her eldest son's return, as she had desired that his home should remain unchanged even after her death. Leonore can have her quarters in your mother's rooms."
"I wonder if you would like to see the rooms you knew so well, Mrs. Maxa," the Baron said slowly.
Mrs. Maxa gladly assented to this.
"May I go everywhere?" she asked. "I know my way so well."
"Certainly, wherever you wish," the Baron replied.
Entering the large hall, Mrs. Maxa was filled with deep emotion. Here she had spent the most beautiful days of her childhood in delicious games with the unforgettable Leonore and the two young Barons. Everything was as it had been then. The large stone table in the middle, the stone benches on the walls and the niches with the old knights of Wallerstaetten stood there as of yore.
When she went into the dining-hall, everything looked bare and empty. The portraits of ancestors had been taken from the walls and the glinting pewter plates and goblets were gone from the large oaken sideboard. Mrs. Maxa shook her head.
Going up the stairs, she decided first of all to go to the Baron's rooms, for she wondered what care he was receiving. Rigid with consternation, she stopped under the doorway. What a room it was! Not the tiniest picture was on the wall and not a single small rug lay on the uneven boards. Nothing but an empty bedstead, an old wicker chair and a table which had plainly been dragged there from the servants' quarters, comprised the furniture. Mrs. Maxa looked again to make sure that it was really the Baron's room. There was no doubt of it, it was the balcony room in the tower. Where did the Baron sleep?
As the sight proved more than she could bear, she quickly sought the late Baroness' chamber. Here, too, everything was empty and the red plush-covered chairs and the sofa in the corner over which all the pictures of the children used to hang were gone. Only an empty bedstead stood in the corner.
Mrs. Maxa went next to Leonore's room, which used to be extremely pretty. Lovely pictures used to hang on the walls, chairs covered in light blue silk were standing about, a half-rounded bed was placed in a corner, and she remembered the dearest little desk on which two flower vases, always filled with fresh roses, used to stand. Mrs. Maxa did not even go in this time, it was too horribly forlorn. The only thing which still spoke of old times was the wallpaper with the tiny red and blue flowers. She quickly went out. Throwing a single glance at the large ball-room, she likened it to a dreary desert. Not a curtain, not a chair or painting could be seen. Where could all the valuable damask-covered furniture have gone to? Was it possible that the castle had been robbed and no one knew of it?
It was probable, however, that Mr. Trius did not know about anything, and it was plain that the Baron himself had not troubled about these things. Mrs. Maxa hurriedly went back to him.
"To what a dreary home you have come back, my poor friend!" she cried out, "and I know that your mother never wished you to find it like this. How unhappy you must have felt when you entered these walls after so many years! You cannot help feeling miserable here, and it is all quite incomprehensible to me."
"Not to me," the Baron quietly replied; "I somehow felt it had to be that way. Did I value my home before? It is a just retribution to me to find the place so empty and forlorn. I only returned to die here and I can await death in daytime on my chair out here and at night time in my nest. I need nothing further; but death has not come as quickly as I thought it would. Why are you trying to bring me back to life again?"
"This is what I decidedly mean to do, so we shall banish the subject of death from now on, as I confidently believe that our Lord in Heaven has other plans for you," Mrs. Maxa said decisively. "I can see for myself that it is better for Leonore to stay with us, and I am ever so happy for your permission. May I write the ladies in Hanover that you do not want Leonore to be fetched away for the present?"
The Baron heartily gave this permission.
"I have to trouble you for one thing, Baron. Can you remember Apollonie, who was for many years your most faithful servant?"
The Baron smilingly answered, "Of course I remember her. How could I possibly forget Apollonie, who was always ready to help us in everything. Your little daughter has already given me news of her."
"She is the only one who might know what happened to the furniture," Mrs. Maxa continued. "I am going to see her right away, and I wish you would admit her when she comes. In case the place has really been robbed, you must let me get what you require. Nobody is looking after you and you stand sorely in need of good care. I am quite sure that your mother would like me to look after you. Do you not think so?"
"I do," the Baron replied smilingly, "and I feel that I ought to be obedient."
After these words Mrs. Maxa took her leave and rapidly walked down the mountain.
She unexpectedly entered Apollonie's garden while the latter was working there, and immediately described to her the terrible state of things at the castle. She had always believed that the Baron would find it home-like and furnished, and now everything was gone, and he had not even a bed to sleep in, but was obliged to spend both day and night in his chair.
Apollonie had been wringing her hands all the time and broke out at last bitterly, "How could I have foreseen that? Oh, what a Turk, what a savage, what an old heathen that miserable Trius is," she sobbed, full of rage and grief. "I understand now why he never answered my questions. I have asked him many a time if he had taken out the right bed and was using the things belonging to it which were marked with a blue crown in the corners. He only used to grin at me and never said a word. He never even looked for them and calmly let my poor sick Baron suffer. Nothing is missing, not even the tiniest picture or trifle, and he had to come back to a terrible waste! All my sleepless nights were not in vain, but I had not the slightest idea that it could be as bad as that. The worst of it is that it is my fault.
"Yes, it really is all my fault, Mrs. Maxa," and Apollonie went on to tell how this had come about. Baron Bruno had only heard the news of his brother's marriage and his mother's death when he returned the first time years ago. He left again immediately, and she was quite sure that he did not intend to return for a long while. As no one had lived at the castle for so long, she had decided to put all the beautiful things safely away, in order to keep them from ruin and possible thieves. So she had stored them in the attic, wrapped in sheets, and had locked the place up. Apollonie had never doubted that she would be called to the castle as soon as the Baron returned, for she belonged there as of old and occupied the little gardener's cottage belonging to it. But her dreams were not to come true.
"I must go to him this minute," gasped Apollonie; she had spoken rapidly and with intense excitement. "I want to fix my master's room to-day. I am sure I can do it, for all the furniture from the different rooms is marked and grouped together. But shall I be let in? The horrible stubborn old watchman always keeps me out."
But Mrs. Maxa was able to quiet her on that score by the Baron's recent promise, and she even urged Apollonie to start directly. The Baron should be told of the situation and have a bed prepared for him that night. After this Mrs. Maxa left.
Leonore, knowing where the mother had gone, flew to meet her when she saw her coming.
"Did he give you the address, Aunt Maxa," she asked expectantly.
"He means to let you know when he has traced it."
This seemed quite hopeful to Leonore, and she was glad to be able to give her brother this news. Mrs. Maxa herself lost no time in writing to the ladies in Hanover that Leonore's uncle had returned and wished to keep her near him.
Apollonie was meanwhile getting ready for her walk. Her agitation was so great that she took rather long in getting ready. Her toilet finally completed, she hurried up the incline with astonishing ease, for the hope of being admitted to the castle made her feel at least ten years younger, though she still had some doubts whether the door would be opened for her; On her arrival she pulled the bell-rope. Mr. Trius appeared, quietly opened and silently walked away again. Apollonie, who knew from Maezli where the master was, went towards the terrace. When she saw the sick man, she was completely overcome by memories of former times. She only said shakily, "Oh, Baron, Baron! I cannot bear this! It is my fault that you have no proper room or bed! And ill and suffering as you are!" Apollonie could get no further for sobs and tears.
The Baron shook her hand kindly. "What is the matter, Mrs. Apollonie? We have always been good friends. What do you mean?"
He then heard from Apollonie that it had been the Baroness' wish to leave the whole house unchanged on account of his possible return. Apollonie frankly admitted that she had only moved the things away to keep them from being ruined and had naturally counted on putting every object back again as soon as he came back, for she remembered where every pin-cushion and tiny picture belonged. She begged the Baron's permission to let her fix his room to-day, another one the day after, and so on till the castle looked again as his mother had wished it to be.
The Baron replied that Apollonie could do whatever she chose, adding that he trusted her entirely.
Her heart was filled with joy as she ran towards the attic. She came down soon afterwards laden with blankets, sheets and pillows, only to go up again for a new load. This went on for a couple of hours, and between times she set the manifold objects in order. How gladly she put up the heavy hangings in the Baron's room. She knew how he had always loved the beautiful red color which dimmed the bright sunlight. Apollonie stood still in the middle of the room and looked about her. Everything was there down to the two pen-holders the Baron had last been using, which were on the big shell of the bronze inkstand. Beside them lay a black pen-wiper with red and white roses which Miss Leonore herself had embroidered. The cover was half turned back and the snow-white bed with the high pillows was ready to receive the sick man. Over the bed hung a little picture of his mother, which had been there since his boyhood, and Apollonie had also remembered every other detail. When she went down to the terrace, a cool evening breeze was already blowing through the branches of the pine tree.
"Everything is ready, Baron," she said; "we are going to carry you up together, because Mr. Trius can't do it alone. I am sure you will sleep well to-night."
"Where do you want to take me?" the Baron asked, surprised. "I am quite comfortable able here."
"No, no, Baron, it is getting too cool for you here. Your room is a better place at this hour; your mother would have wished it, I am sure. Will you allow me to call Mr. Trius?"
"I'll have to give in, I suppose," the Baron acquiesced.
Mr. Trius was already on the spot, for he was blessed with splendid hearing.
"You are to carry me up," said the Baron. "Apollonie will show you how it is done."
Apollonie immediately seized him firmly about the waist.
"You do the same, Mr. Trius," she said; "then please, Baron, put one arm about his neck and one around mine. We shall clasp hands under your feet and lift you up."
In the most easy, comfortable way the Baron was lifted and carried to his chamber and placed on the fresh bed. Leaning back on the easy pillows, he looked about him.
"How charming it is," he said, letting his glance rest here and there. "You have brought everything back, Mrs. Apollonie, and have made it look the way it was years ago."
"Make things comfortable for him for the night now," Apollonie whispered to Mr. Trius, leaving the room to repair to the kitchen.
"Gracious heavens! what disorder," she cried out on entering, for the whole place was covered with dust and spider-webs. Opening a cupboard, she saw only a loaf of bread and a couple of eggs, and this was all she was able to find even on further search.
"What a wretch!" she cried out in bitter rage. "He seems to give his master nothing but eggs. But I know what I'll do," she said to herself, eagerly seeking for a key, which she discovered, as of old, on a rusty nail. Next she repaired to the cellar where she quickly found what she was after; the bottle stood in sore need of cleaning, however, as did everything else she touched. Then she set about beating two eggs, adding a glass of the strengthening wine, for she had vividly recollected how much her master used to enjoy this. When she entered his room with this concoction a little later, the odor from it was so inviting that the Baron breathed it in gratefully. Mr. Trius had left the room and Apollonie had put the empty cup away, and yet she kept on setting trifles in order.
"Oh, Baron," she said finally, "there is so much to do still. I saw the kitchen just now. If the Baroness had seen it as dirty as that, what would she have said? And every other place is the same. I feel as if I couldn't rest till everything is set in order. I wish I could work all night!"
"No, no, Apollonie! You must have a good night's rest; I intend to sleep, too, in this lovely bed," he said smilingly. "Would you like to live here again and undertake the management of the castle?"
Apollonie stared at her master at first as if she could not comprehend his words.
"Tell me what you think of it? Are you willing to do it?" he asked again.
"Am I willing? am I willing? Oh, Baron, of course I am, and you cannot know how happy I am," she cried out with frank delight. "I can come to-morrow morning, Baron, to-morrow, but now--I wonder what you'll say. You see, I am living with my daughter's child, who is twelve years old. She is a very good child, but is scarcely old enough yet to help much in the house and garden."
"How splendid! When Apollonie will be too old to do the work, we shall have a young one to carry it on," said the Baron. "When you move up here tomorrow, you will know which quarters to choose for yourself, I know."
The Baron sank back with evident comfort into his pillows, and Apollonie wandered home with a heart overflowing with happiness. At the first rays of the sun next morning she was already in front of her cottage, packing only the most necessary things for herself and the child into a cart, as she intended to fetch the rest of them later. Loneli had just heard the great news, because she had been asleep when her grandmother returned the night before. She was so absolutely overcome by the prospect of becoming an inmate of the castle that she stood still in the middle of the little chamber.
"Come, come," the grandmother urged, "we have no time for wondering, as we shall have to be busy all day."
"What will Kurt and Mea say?" was Loneli's first exclamation. She would have loved to run over to them right away, for whenever anything happened to her she always felt the wish to tell her two best friends.
"Yes, and think what Mrs. Rector will say," Apollonie added. "But let us quickly finish up here, for we must get to the castle as soon as possible. You are not going to school for the next two days and on Sunday I hope to be all done."
Apollonie rapidly tied up her bundle and locked the cottage door. Then quickly setting out, they did not stop till they had reached the iron-grated door. Mr. Trius, after letting them wait a while, appeared with dragging steps.
"Why not before daybreak?" he growled.
"Because you might have been still in bed and could not have unlocked the door. But for that I should have come then," Apollonie quickly retorted.
So he silently led the way, for he had had to realize that Apollonie was not in the least backward now that she had the master's full support. She first sought out her old chamber, and Loneli was extremely puzzled to see her grandmother wiping her eyes over and over again. The whole thing was like a beautiful fairy story to the child, and she loved the charming room with the dark wainscoting along the wall.
But Apollonie did not indulge very long in dreams and memories. Soon after, she was making war on the fine spider-webs in the kitchen, and in a couple of hours it already looked livable and cosy there. Mr. Trius smiled quite pleasantly when he entered, as he was just on the point of brewing himself and his master a cup of coffee. The only thing he usually added was a piece of dry bread, as he was too lazy to get milk and butter from the neighboring farmers, and his master had never asked for either. The steaming coffee and hot milk and the fresh white bread Apollonie had prepared looked very appetizing to him. The wooden benches were clean scrubbed, and he didn't object to absence of the annoying spider-webs, which had always tickled his nose.
Apollonie, pouring the fragrant beverage into a large cup, politely invited Mr. Trius to take his seat at the table. He could not help enjoying the meal and the new order of things in the kitchen. Apollonie now prepared the breakfast tray, setting on it the good old china that the Baroness had always used. She had put a plate with round butter-balls beside the steaming coffee-pot, and fresh round rolls peeped invitingly from an old-fashioned little china basket.
When Apollonie came to her master's room, he exclaimed, "Oh, how good this looks! Just like old times."
At first he thought that even looking at it would do him good, but Apollonie did not agree with him.
"Please take a little, Baron," she begged him, "otherwise your strength will not come back. Take a little bit at first and gradually more and more. I know you will like the butter. Loneli got it at the best farm hereabouts."
After tasting a little the Baron was surprised how good it was.
When her master was comfortably sitting in the lovely morning sun, Apollonie fetched Loneli out. She wanted the child to thank him for receiving her into his house. Now the great task of cleaning and moving began, and it took a whole day of feverish activity to get the rooms in the castle settled. Only at meal times was this interrupted, for Apollonie did not look at this as a minor matter, and she carefully planned what to give her master.
For Mr. Trius she had to consider the quantity, for he seemed to have an excellent appetite and clearly enjoyed coming to the neat-looking kitchen. He had begun to show his gratitude to Apollonie by willingly carrying the heavy furniture about.
Two days had passed in uninterrupted work, and Apollonie had accomplished what she had set out to do. When she brought her master his breakfast on Sunday, she stood irresolutely holding the doorknob in her hand.
"Have you something to tell me Apollonie? You certainly can't complain that I don't appreciate your delicious coffee. Just look at the progress I am making."
With comical seriousness the Baron pointed to the empty cup and the sole remaining roll.
"God be thanked and praised for that," she said joyfully. "I shall tell you because you asked me. I wonder if you would give me a little Sunday pleasure by inspecting all the rooms. I have your chair already at the door."
After the great work Apollonie had done, his only objection was that she desired something which meant pleasure for him and labour for her. But he was willing enough to be put into the heavy wheel-chair.
"It is wonderful what you have done, Apollonie," he concluded. "You seem to have even changed Mr. Trius from an old bear into an obedient lamb."
Soon after, the Baron sat propped up in his wheel-chair. Here, guided by Apollonie, he was taken first of all to the large ball-room, which had witnessed all the happy gatherings of the family and their friends. It actually glistened in its renewed splendor, and the Baron silently looked about him. The tower room, which had been his brother Salo's abode, was inspected next, and again the Baron uttered no word. Beautiful portraits of his ancestors adorned these walls, and he recalled how Salo had loved them.
Apollonie moved next to the room of the Baroness where every object was in its place again. The faithful servant noticed how her master's glances drank it all in and as they remained he still showed no desire to leave.
"My mother was sitting in this arm-chair when I last spoke to her," he said at last, "and this red pin cushion was lying on the table before her. I remember standing there and playing with the pins, and I can recall every word she said. Don't carry me down to-day, Mrs. Apollonie," he continued after a pause, "I want to spend my Sunday here. I am glad there are no more empty rooms to flee from."
Apollonie was more gratified than she could say that her master was beginning to feel at home and hoped that it would soon become dear to him. She wanted him to see also Leonore's bright and cheerful room, which the Baroness had had furnished in the daintiest way, and was unable to suppress her wish. "Please, Baron, take one more small trip with me," she begged. "We can soon come back here."
As he raised no objection, they set out. Through the wide-open windows of the room the woods could be seen. Flocks of gay birds sat carolling on the luxuriant branches of the fir trees, and their songs filled the room with laughter. The Baron let his gaze roam out to the trees with their merry minstrels and back again to the pleasant chamber.
"You have accomplished miracles, Mrs. Apollonie," he cried out. "It only took you two days to change this mournful cave into a pleasant abode where young people could be happy. Please take me back to my mother's room now and come to me as soon as you find time, for I have something to talk over with you."
An interview lasting a considerable time took place that afternoon. Loneli had been thinking about Kurt and Mea while she was wandering happily up and down the terrace, and she wondered how soon they would hear of the great event. She was very anxious for them to pay her a visit, for which she was already making plans.
When Loneli came back from her stroll, she saw her grandmother sitting on the window-seat, sobbing violently.
"But grandmother, why are you crying? Everything is so wonderful here, and all the birds outside are singing."
"I am singing with them in my heart, child; these tears are tears of joy," said the grandmother. "Sit down, Loneli, and I'll tell you what is going to happen to-morrow. I feel as if this happiness was too much for me, Loneli." Apollonie was once more swept away by emotion, and it took her a little time before she could tell Loneli the wonderful news.
On this day it was so quiet in Mrs. Maxa's garden, that it hardly seemed as if the whole family was gathered in the vine-covered gardens. The thought of its being Leonore's last Sunday kept them from being gay, despite the fact that they were playing a game which they usually enjoyed. The mother's thoughts were wandering, too, for she had waited all day to get news from the castle. Wondering what this meant, Mrs. Maxa found it difficult to keep her attention on the children. Maezli undertook a little stroll from time to time, for her companions depressed her very much. She had been to see Kathy, who was sitting near the house-door, and had chatted occasionally with the passers, but now she returned carrying a letter.
"A boy brought it, and Kathy asked him from whom it was, but he didn't know," she explained.
"Give it to me, Maezli," said the mother. "It is addressed to Leonore, though," she added, a bit frightened, "but--"
Leonore put both hands up to her face. "Please read it, Aunt Maxa, I can't."
"You need not be frightened, children," she said quickly, with a joyful flush on her cheeks. "Listen! As the Castle-Steward wants to see his two young friends, Leonore and Maezli, again, he invites them, with the rest of the family, including the mother, to spend the following day at Castle Wildenstein."
"I am glad," said Maezli rapidly, "then Kurt can see that the Castle-Steward and Mr. Trius are two people."
The children had been entirely taken aback by fright, which turned into surprise, but they began to shout joyfully now, for the prospect of being invited to the castle was an event nobody could have predicted. For years they had only seen the mysterious shuttered doors and windows, and it was no wonder that they were delighted. Mea had heartily voiced her delight with the others till she noticed that Leonore had become very quiet and melancholy.
"But, Leonore," she exclaimed, "why don't you look forward to the lovely day we are going to have? I can't imagine anything nicer than to be able to inspect the whole castle."
"I can't," Leonore replied. "I know too well that everything will be over after that day, and I may even never see you any more."
Poor Mea was deeply affected by these words, and immediately her joy had flown. It was rather difficult to quiet everybody down in bed that night and even when Kurt had gone to sleep he uttered strange triumphant exclamations, for in his dreams the boy had climbed to the top of the highest battlement.
At ten o'clock next morning all the children were ready to leave and had formed a regular procession. Bruno and Kurt had placed themselves at the head and were only waiting for their mother.
Now the two boys started off at such a rate that no one else could keep up with them, so the mother appointed Leonore and Mea as guides, and herself followed with Maezli. She firmly held the little girl's hand, for there was no telling what she might undertake otherwise, and the less independent Lippo held his mother's other hand, so that the two older brothers were obliged to accommodate their steps to the rest. But Kurt, simply bursting with impatience, dashed ahead once, only to drop behind again; later on he would appear from behind a hedge. Lippo simply could not stand such disorder, and to even up the pairs he took Bruno's hand. When they reached the familiar iron-grated door at last, to their surprise both wings of it were thrown open.
Mr. Trius, with his hat lowered to the ground, stood at his post to receive them. Shining silver buttons set off a coat which plainly belonged to his gala suit. Kurt was so completely confounded by this reception that he quickly fell into line with the rest, and the procession proceeded. The first thing they saw on the terrace was a long festive table with garlands of ivy and flowers. Apollonie soon after appeared in a beautiful silk gown the Baroness had given her, and her measured movements made the occasion seem extremely solemn. She had, to all appearance, become "Castle Apollonie" again. Loneli, wearing a pretty dress and carrying a huge bouquet of flowers, stepped up to Leonore. Then she handed her the flowers and recited in a clear, impressive voice the following words which Apollonie had composed herself:
"Thrice welcome to this home of thine, Lady of Castle Wildenstein."
Leonore, rigid with surprise, first stared at Loneli, then looked at the mother.
Mrs. Maxa took Leonore's hand and led her to the Baron, who had smilingly surveyed the scene.
"I think that her uncle is going to make his little niece a speech at last," Mrs. Maxa said, placing Leonore's hand in her uncle's. Like a flash comprehension dawned on Leonore.
"Dear uncle, dear uncle!" she cried out, embracing him tenderly. "Is it really true that you are my uncle? Is this wonderful thing really true?"
"Yes, child, I am the uncle you longed to love like a father," said the Baron. "I want to be your father and I hope you can love me a little. Will you mind living with me, Leonore?"
"Oh, dear, dear uncle," Leonore repeated with renewed signs of warm affection. "It is not very hard to love you. When you told me that my uncle in Spain was sick and miserable, I wished he could be just like you. I really can't quite believe that Salo and I may live with you in this wonderful castle, where I can be so near Aunt Maxa and everybody I love. I wonder what Salo will say. May I write to him today and let him know that we shall have a home with you?"
"How do you do, Mr. Castle-Steward,"
Maezli said that moment, thrusting a plump, round hand between Leonore's and the Baron's. Maezli had actually made use of the first moment her hand was free.
"Now Kurt can see for himself that you and Mr. Trius are two people; can't he, Mr. Steward?"
"This certainly must be cleared up," the Baron answered, shaking Maezli's hand. "We shall prove to them all that Maezli knows what she has seen. Leonore, I want to meet your friends now. Won't you bring them to me?"
The children were all standing around their mother and Apollonie, who were clearing up the mystery for them. The mother had barely been able to check their violent outbreak, but could not quite quench all enthusiasm. When they heard that Leonore had come to introduce them to her uncle, they were a little scared, but Leonore understood their hesitation and declared, "Just come! You have no idea how nice he is." Pulling Mea with her, she compelled the others to follow, and arriving at her uncle's side, she immediately began, "This is Bruno, my brother's best friend, and this is Mea, my best friend. I never had a friend like her in all my life. This is Kurt--"
"Kurt is my friend," said the uncle; "I know him because he is the poet. I hope he'll make songs about us all now; I know the one about Mr. Trius."
Quite taken aback, Kurt looked at the Baron. How could he know that song? His mother had strictly forbidden him to show it to anyone, and he had only read it aloud at home. How could a stranger hear about it?
"You can say in your new song that Mr. Castle-Steward and Mr. Trius are two persons and not one; you can see that yourself," Maezli declared aloud.
Kurt then suddenly understood that his impudent small sister had probably been the informer and he did not know what to answer.
But Leonore helped him over his embarrassment by continuing, "This is Lippo, Uncle, who has asked me to live with him when he is grown up. Isn't he a wonderful friend, Uncle? He knew I had no home."
"You have quite marvellous friends, Leonore," said the Baron; "they must visit you very often, if Mrs. Maxa will allow it."
"Gladly, and I know that their happiness will be yours, too, when you see them all wandering through the house and garden."
"Yes, all of us, and Salo, too," Leonore exclaimed. "Do you think Salo will soon be here, Uncle?"
Apollonie had approached the lively group under the pine tree, and as there happened to be a suitable pause, she announced that dinner was ready.
"I really ought to invite my dear friend, Mrs. Maxa, to come to the table with me; I shall ask, however, who is going to take me?" said the Baron.
All the children immediately cried, "I," "I," "I," "I," "I," "I," and hands caught hold of the back and both sides of the Baron's chair.
"I am driving in a coach and six to-day! How things have changed for me!" the gentleman said smilingly. The meal Apollonie had planned was a great success and the open air on the terrace added to the children's enjoyment.
When the fruit course, which consisted of yellow plums, was eaten, the Baron gave the young birds, as he called the children, permission to fly freely about. It seemed to crown all the preceding pleasures to be able to roam without restraint in the woods and meadows. First of all they ran towards the adjoining woods, where their need for an outlet could be gratified.
"Long years to you, Leonore!" Bruno cried. "Now you and Salo are going to have a wonderful home quite near to us. Isn't it splendid! When Salo comes, we shall be together."
"Long live the Baron!" Kurt screamed now with all his might. "Hurrah for Castle Wildenstein, the wonderful new home! Long live Apollonie! But where is Loneli?" he suddenly interrupted himself in the midst of his outburst; "she ought to be here, too."
When everybody agreed with him, Kurt dashed towards the terrace where Loneli was just helping her grandmother carry away the dishes.
"We want to have Loneli with us, Apollonie. Please let her come with me," Kurt explained his errand.
"Who wants her, do you say?" Apollonie began rather severely, despite a glad note in her voice which could not be disguised.
"Everybody does, and Leonore especially," was Kurt's sly answer.
"You can go, Loneli," said the grandmother. "You must celebrate this great day with them."
Loneli actually glowed with joy when she ran off with Kurt.
As they were sitting under the pine tree, the Baron and Mrs. Maxa were reviving memories of long ago, and he listened with great emotion when Mrs. Maxa told him how faithfully his mother had tried to send him news. Her letters had, however, miscarried, because he had changed his residence so frequently. But he had wanted him to know how constant his mother's love had been and how anxiously she was waiting his return.
"Mrs. Maxa," he said after a little pause, "I feel terribly ashamed. I came here with anger and hate in my heart against God and man, and my only hope was to die as soon as possible. I expected to be forsaken and despised, and instead of that I meet only kindness and love on every side. I never deserved such a thing! Do you think I can ever atone for all the wrong I've done?"
"We must always bear in mind that there is One who is glad to forgive us our sins, Baron, and He can deliver us from them if we sincerely beg Him to," Mrs. Maxa answered.
As the Baron remained silent, Mrs. Maxa added, "Will you let me say something to you on the strength of our old friendship, Baron Bruno?"
"Certainly. I can trust my dear Maxa to say only what is right," he replied.
"I have noticed that you have evaded mentioning the name Salo, that you seemed reluctant to answer Leonore's questions concerning his possible coming. I know that bitter memories are connected with the name, but I also want you to know that you will deprive yourself of a great blessing if you banish the boy who bears that name."
"Please let him come here, if only for a little while," Mrs. Maxa begged, yet more strongly, "so that you can see him. If you can't willingly see him who may be the pride and joy of your life, then open the door of his home because, before God, it is right, which you must feel as fully as I."
The Baron was silent, then finally said, "Salo may come."
Mrs. Maxa's face shone with joy and gratitude. Many things had still to be discussed, and the two old friends remained sitting under the pine tree till the last rays of the setting sun were throwing a rosy light over the gray castle. The children were at last returning from their walk across the meadows. They looked like a full-blown garden when they approached the Baron's chair, for they were covered with garlands of poppies, ivy and cornflowers. Now supper was announced, and the Baron was escorted to the terrace as before. It was a true triumphal march this time, when he, throned in his chair with the lion-skin on his knees, was pushed along by the gaily decked children. The Baron told them how much he would enjoy taking a similar ride into the fields some day.
When Mrs. Maxa gave the sign for parting after the merry supper party, no sign of grief was shown because the Baron had already told them that Leonore was to move up into the castle in a few days. They were all to be present then. After that there would be no end to their visits.
When the Baron shook Maezli's hand at parting, he said, "You came to see me first, Maezli, so you shall always be my special friend."
"Yes, I'll be your friend," Maezli said firmly.
When Leonore tenderly took leave of her uncle she whispered in his ear, "May Salo come soon, Uncle?"
This time the answer was a clear affirmative, and the child's heart was filled with rapture.
"Oh, Aunt Maxa," he cried aloud, "Can't we sing our evening song up here? I should love to sing the song my mother used to sing."
When consent was given, they grouped themselves about the Baron's chair and sang:
God, Who disposes all things well, I want but what Thou givest me. Oh how can we Thine acts foretell, When Thou are far more wise than we?
All the way home the children kept looking back at the castle, for their day had been too marvellous.
The next day three letters were sent to Salo, one from Bruno and one from Leonore, both full of enthusiasm about the great event of the day before; and one from Mrs. Maxa. The last thrilled Salo most, because it contained a summons for him to come to his new home.
The news that Baron Bruno had come back and that Apollonie had resumed her old post at the castle had spread all over the neighborhood. Everybody had heard that Loneli also was living at the castle, that Baron Salo's daughter had come, and his son was soon to be there. The report that Mrs. Rector Bergmann's whole family had spent a day at the castle was reported, too, and everybody talked about the intimate friendship of the two families.
A few days after the celebration at the castle the district attorney's wife came to call on Mrs. Maxa. She lost no time in telling her hostess that she counted on Baron Salo's son joining the other three lads in town and that her husband had agreed to look up another room for him. She had no doubt that the sons of the three most important families of Nolla ought naturally to live and study together, and she knew that every effort would be made to find Salo a suitable room, even if the application came rather late. Mrs. Maxa did not need to mind these annoying negotiations now, but calmly replied that the Baron would send his nephew to the high school in the city and would undoubtedly make his own arrangements. Mrs. Knippel, after remarking that her husband counted on seeing the Baron himself, withdrew. A moment after she left Loneli came into the house to see Mea.
"Just think, Mea," the peace-loving Loneli said to her, "I have a message for you from Elvira; she wants you to know that she is willing to forgive you on condition that she may meet Leonore. She wants to be her friend and sit beside her in school."
"It's too late now, and it won't help her. I don't care whether she wants to make up with me or not," Mea said placidly. "Neither Leonore nor I are going to school. You won't have to go either, Loneli, because a lady is coming to the castle to teach us all. Baron Wallerstaetten and mama have settled it, so I know it."
Loneli could hardly believe her ears, the surprise seemed too great. "Then I shan't have to sit on the shame-bench any more," she said with a beaming face, for a heavy trouble was removed from her heart.
"You can ask Leonore if she wants to meet Elvira," said Mea, for Leonore had stepped up to them.
But Loneli's message held no interest whatever for Leonore, who wished for no new acquaintances. She only desired to give the time she was not spending with her uncle to Mea and her brothers and sisters. Least of all she wished to meet a girl who had been so disagreeable to her beloved Mea.
Uncle Philip had been away on a business trip. On his arrival home he received the following note from his sister: "If you still want to see Leonore with us, come as soon as possible. She is going to live with her uncle at the castle in a very few days. I shall tell you all about it when you come."
He arrived the very next morning, and as soon as he met his sister, he exploded: "I was quite sure, Maxa, that you would immediately deliver the little dove into the vulture's claws. I wish I had never put her in your care!"
"Come in, Philip and sit down," Mrs. Maxa said composedly. "We are going to have dinner in a moment, and then you will have the chance to ask the dove herself what she thinks of the vulture's claws."
Uncle Philip opened the door and found the children absolutely immersed in the recent events. The instant he stepped over the threshold they rushed up to him and fairly flooded him with news. Their speeches came thick and fast, and he heard nothing but manifestations of love for the dear, good Baron, Leonore's charming uncle, the good, kind Castle-Steward. Maezli had not given up this title even now.
"Do you see, Philip, that you can't swim against the stream?" said Mrs. Maxa when she was sitting alone with her brother after dinner. "The best thing you can do is to pay your old friend a call; that would add you to the list of his admirers, instead of your bearing him a grudge."
But Uncle Philip violently objected to this proposal.
"Baron Bruno spoke of you with a sincere feeling of attachment which you apparently don't deserve," his sister said. "He was afraid of your feeling towards him, though. Listen to what he said 'I fear that he won't wish to have anything to do with me, and I shall be powerless in that case.'"
"I won't refuse the hand of an old friend, though, Maxa," said the brother now, "if he offers it to me to reestablish peace. What is he going to do for Salo's son?"
"Salo has already been sent word that he is to have the castle of his ancestors for a home," replied Mrs. Maxa.
"I am going out for a walk," Uncle Philip said suddenly, taking down his hat from the peg, and Mrs. Maxa guessed quite well where he was going. He reappeared at supper time and sat down with merry eyes in the midst of them all.
"Leonore," he began, "as soon as you are the mistress of the castle, I shall often be your guest. Your uncle and I have just done some business together. He told me how different everything used to be in the castle grounds and that he regretted not understanding about these matters. So he asked me to take charge of things, as they were in my special field. He hoped my old attachment to the place"--at these words Uncle Philip's voice became quite hoarse suddenly--"Maxa, your plum-cake is so sweet it makes one hoarse," he said, for he would never admit that he had been overcome by deep emotion. "So I have undertaken to attend to the matter and I shall often come to the castle."
That Uncle Philip belonged to the castle, too, now awoke hearty outbursts from the children, which the mother happily joined, for it had been her greatest wish that the two should become friends again.
The last evening before Leonore was to move into the castle had come, and the children were all sitting in a little corner. They were in the most cheerful mood, busily making delightful plans for the future. Suddenly the door opened, and wild shrieks of joy burst from everybody. "Salo, Salo, Salo!" they all cried out. The boy had just arrived in time to have a last splendid evening with his friends before moving into his new home. The next day turned out more wonderful than they had ever dared to dream, and it was followed again by a succession of other days as delightful. Every time the children came together it seemed like a new party, and the Baron took great care that those parties did not end too quickly.
Kurt had soon informed Salo and Bruno that there was a large hall with weapons and armor at the ground floor of the castle. When the boys asked Apollonie to admit them, she opened a little side door for them, because Mr. Trius had hidden the other key. Salo lifted the armoured knight to his shoulders, and had the long, blue cloak draped around him. He looked like a frightful giant as he wandered up and down the big room, and Kurt recognized the ghost of Wildenstein he had seen that dreadful night.
Salo, with his charming disposition, soon entirely won over his uncle, who decided to send his nephew to the neighboring town to study, and Salo and Bruno were to spend their study-time as well as their holidays together.
When the summer holidays were over, Salo and Bruno moved into town, but even this leave-taking did not prove very hard. The children were not to be separated very long, for the boys were to spend many week-ends at home, besides all their holidays. Bruno had soon written to his mother from town that she need not worry at all about the Knippel boys, as they scarcely ever saw them.
When Mrs. Maxa cannot help recalling all her former fears and plans for the future because her son's violent temper caused her such anxiety, she said to herself with a glad heart:
Oh how can we Thine acts foretell, When Thou are far more wise than we?
Apollonie has become the real, true Castle-Apollonie of yore and manages for her master's sake to live in undisturbed peace with Mr. Trius. She is taking such good care of the Baron and his little adopted daughter that a bloom of health has spread over their cheeks. On sunny days the Baron can frequently be seen walking up and down the terrace on Leonore's arm, and his young guide is very careful of his health and looks after him tenderly. The sound of a beautiful voice can often be heard through the open castle windows, for Leonore has inherited her mother's voice, and it gives her uncle the keenest pleasure to listen to the songs she used to sing in bygone days. The people in Nolla unanimously agree that the ghost of Wildenstein has gone to his eternal rest, because peace again is reigning at the castle.