Chapter I. In Nolla
 

For nearly twenty years the fine old castle had stood silent and deserted on the mountain-side. In its neighborhood not a sound could be heard except the twittering of the birds and the soughing of the old pine-trees. On bright summer evenings the swallows whizzed as before about the corner gables, but no more merry eyes looked down from the balconies to the green meadows and richly laden apple trees in the valley.

But just now two merry eyes were searchingly raised to the castle from the meadow below, as if they might discover something extraordinary behind the fast-closed shutters.

"Mea, come quick," the young spy exclaimed excitedly, "look! Now it's opening." Mea, who was sitting on the bench under the large apple tree, with a book, put aside the volume and came running.

"Look, look! Now it's moving," her brother continued with growing suspense. "It's the arm of a black coat; wait, soon the whole shutter will be opened."

At this moment a black object lifted itself and soared up to the tower.

"It was only a bird, a large black-bird," said the disappointed Mea. "You have called me at least twenty times already; every time you think that the shutters will open, and they never do. You can call as often as you please from now on, I shall certainly not come again."

"I know they will open some day," the boy asserted firmly, "only we can't tell just when; but it might be any time. If only stiff old Trius would answer the questions we ask him! He knows everything that is going on up there. But the old crosspatch never says a word when one comes near him to talk; all he does is to come along with his big stick. He naturally doesn't want anybody to know what is happening up there, but everybody in school knows that a ghost wanders about and sighs through the pine trees."

"Mother has said more than once that nothing is going on there at all. She doesn't want you to talk about the ghost with the school-children, and she has asked you not to try to find out what they know about it. You know, too, that mother wants you to call the castle watchman Mr. Trius and not just Trius."

"Oh, yes, I'll call him Mr. Trius, but I'll make up such a song about him that everybody will know who it is about," Kurt said threateningly.

"How can he help it when there is no ghost in Wildenstein about which he could tell you tales," Mea remarked.

"Oh, he has enough to tell," Kurt eagerly continued. "Many wonderful things must have happened in a castle that is a thousand years old. He knows them all and could tell us, but his only answer to every question is a beating. You know, Mea, that I do not believe in ghosts or spirits. But it is so exciting to imagine that an old, old Baron of Wallerstaetten might wander around the battlements in his armor. I love to imagine him standing under the old pine trees with wild eyes and threatening gestures. I love to think of fighting him, or telling him that I am not afraid."

"Oh, yes, I am sure you would run away if the armoured knight with his wild eyes should come nearer," said Mea. "It is never hard to be brave when one is as far away from danger as you are now."

"Oho! so you think I would be afraid of a ghost," Kurt exclaimed laughing. "I am sure that the ghost would rather run away from me if I shouted at him very loudly. I shall make a song about him soon and then we'll go up and sing it for him. All my school friends want to go with me; Max, Hans and Clevi, his sister. You must come, too, Mea, and then you'll see how the ghost will sneak away as soon as we scream at him and sing awfully loud."

"But, Kurt, how can a ghost, which doesn't exist, sneak away?" Mea exclaimed. "With all your wild ideas about fighting, you seem to really believe that there is a ghost in Wildenstein."

"You must understand, Mea, that this is only to prove that there is none," Kurt eagerly went on. "A real ghost could rush towards us, mad with rage, if we challenged him that way. You will see what happens. It will be a great triumph for me to prove to all the school and the village people that there is no restless ghost who wanders around Wildenstein."

"No, I shan't see it, because I won't come. Mother does not want us to have anything to do with this story, you know that, Kurt! Oh, here comes Elvira! I must speak to her."

With these words Mea suddenly flew down the mountainside. A girl of her own age was slowly coming up the incline. It was hard to tell if this measured walk was natural to her or was necessary to preserve the beautiful red and blue flowers on her little hat, which were not able to stand much commotion. It was clearly evident, however, that the approaching girl had no intention of changing her pace, despite the fact that she must have noticed long ago the friend who was hurrying towards her.

"She certainly could move her proud stilts a little quicker when she sees how Mea is running," Kurt said angrily. "Mea shouldn't do it. Oh, well, I shall make a song about Elvira that she won't ever forget."

Kurt now ran away, too, but in the opposite direction, where he had discovered his mother. She was standing before a rose bush from which she was cutting faded blossoms and twigs. Kurt was glad to find his mother busy with work which did not occupy her thoughts, as he often longed for such an opportunity without success. Whenever he was eager to discuss his special problems thoroughly and without being interrupted, his young brother and sister were sure to intrude with their questions, or the two elder children needed her advice at the same moment. So Kurt rushed into the garden to take advantage of this unusual opportunity. But today again he was not destined to have his object fulfilled. Before he reached his mother, a woman approached her from the other side, and both entered immediately into a lively conversation. If it had been somebody else than his special old friend Mrs. Apollonie, Kurt would have felt very angry indeed. But this woman had gained great distinction in Kurt's eyes by being well acquainted with the old caretaker of the castle; so he always had a hope of hearing from her many things that were happening there.

To his great satisfaction he heard Mrs. Apollonie say on his approach: "No, no, Mrs. Rector, old Trius does not open any windows in vain; he has not opened any for nearly twenty years."

"He might want to wipe away the dust for once in his life; it's about time," Kurt's mother replied. "I don't believe the master has returned."

"Why should the tower windows, where the master always lived, be opened then? Something unusual has happened," said Mrs. Apollonie significantly.

"The ghost of Wildenstein might have pushed them open," Kurt quickly asserted.

"Kurt, can't you stop talking about this story? It is only an invention of people who are not contented with one misfortune but must make up an added terror," the mother said with animation. "You know, Kurt, that I feel sorry about this foolish tale and want you to pay no attention to it."

"But mother, I only want to support you; I want to help you get rid of people's superstitions and to prove to them that there is no ghost in Wildenstein," Kurt assured her.

"Yes, yes, if only one did not know how the brothers--"

"No, Apollonie," the rector's widow interrupted her, "you least of all should support the belief in these apparitions. Everybody knows that you lived in the castle more than twenty years, and so people think that you know what is going on. You realize well enough that all the talk has no foundation whatever."

Mrs. Apollonie lightly shrugged her shoulders, but said no more.

"But, mother, what can the talk come from then, when there is no foundation for it, as you say?" asked Kurt, who could not let the matter rest.

"There is no real foundation for the talk," the mother replied, "and no one of all those who talk has ever seen the apparition with his own eyes. It is always other people who tell, and those have been told again by others, that something uncanny has been seen at the castle. The talk first started from a misfortune which happened years ago, and later on the matter came up and people thought a similar misfortune had taken place again. Although this was an absolutely false report, all the old stories were brought up again and the talk became livelier than ever. But people who know better should be very emphatic in suppressing it."

"What was the misfortune that happened long ago in the castle and then again?" Kurt asked in great suspense.

"I have no time to tell you now, Kurt," the mother declared decisively. "You have to attend to your school work and I to other affairs. When I have you all together quietly some evening I shall tell you about those bygone times. It will be better for you to know than to muse about all the reports you hear. You are most active of all in that, Kurt, and I do not like it; so I hope that you will let the matter rest as soon as you have understood how unfounded the talk really is. Come now, Apollonie, and I will give you the plants you wanted. I am so glad to be able to let you have some of my geraniums. You keep your little flower garden in such perfect order that it is a pleasure to see it."

During the foregoing speeches Apollonie's face had clearly expressed disagreement with what had been said; she had, however, too much respect for the lady to utter her doubts. Bright sunshine spread itself over her features now, because her flower garden was her greatest pride and joy.

"Yes, yes, Mrs. Rector, it is a beautiful thing to raise flowers," she said, nodding her head. "They always do their duty, and if one grows a little to one side, I can put a stick beside it and it grows straight again as it ought to. If only the child were like that, then I should have no more cares. But she only has her own ideas in her head, and such strange whims that it would be hard to tell where they come from."

"There is nothing bad about having her own ideas," replied the rector's widow. "It naturally depends on what kind of ideas they are. It seems to me that Loneli is a good-natured child, who is easily led. All children need guidance. What special whims does Loneli have?"

"Oh, Mrs. Rector, nobody knows what things the child might do," Apollonie said eagerly. "Yesterday she came home from school with glowing eyes and said to me, 'Grandmother, I should love to go to Spain. Beautiful flowers of all colors grow there and large sparkling grapes, and the sun shines down brightly on the flowers so that they glisten! I wish I could go right away!' Just think of a ten-year-old child saying such a thing. I wonder what to expect next."

"There is nothing very terrible about that, Apollonie," said the rector's widow with a smile. "The child might have heard you mention Spain yourself so that it roused her imagination. She probably heard in school about the country, and her wish to go there only shows that she is extremely attentive. To think out how she might get there some time is a very innocent pleasure, which you can indulge. I agree with you that children should be brought up in a strict and orderly way, because they might otherwise start on the wrong road, and nobody loves such children. But Loneli is not that kind at all. There is no child in Nolla whom I would rather see with my own."

Apollonie's honest face glowed anew. "That is my greatest consolation," she said, "and I need it. Many say to me that an old woman like me is not able to bring up and manage a little child. If you once were obliged to say to me that I had spoiled my grandchild, I should die of shame. But I know that the matter is still well, as long as you like to see the child together with yours. Thank you ever so much now. Those will fill a whole bed," she continued, upon receiving a large bunch of plants from her kind friend. "Please let me know if I can help in any way. I am always at home for you, Mrs. Rector, you know that."

Apollonie now said good-bye with renewed thanks. Carrying her large green bundle very carefully in order not to injure the tender little branches, she hurried through the garden towards the castle height. The rector's widow glanced after her thoughtfully. Apollonie was intimately connected with the earliest impressions of her childhood, as well as with the experiences of her youth, with all the people whom she had loved most and who had stood nearest to her. Her appearance therefore always brought up many memories in Mrs. Maxa's heart. Since her husband's death, when she had left the rectory in the valley and had come back to her old home, all her friends called her Mrs. Maxa to distinguish her from the present rector's wife of the village. She had been used to see Apollonie in her parents' house. Baroness Wallerstaetten, the mistress of the castle at that time, had often consulted the rector as to many things. Apollonie, a young girl then, had always been her messenger, and everyone liked to see her at the rectory. When it was discovered how quick and able young Apollonie was, things were more and more given into her charge at the castle. The Baroness hardly undertook anything in her household without consulting Apollonie and asking her assistance. The children, who were growing up, also asked many favors from her, which she was ever ready to fulfill. The devoted, faithful servant belonged many years so entirely to the castle that everyone called her "Castle Apollonie."

Mrs. Maxa was suddenly interrupted in her thoughts by loud and repeated calls of "Mama, Mama!"

"Mama!" it sounded once more from two clear children's voices, and a little boy and girl stood before her. "The teacher has read us a paper on which was written--" began the boy.

"Shall I, too; shall I, too?" interrupted the girl.

"Maezli," said the mother, "let Lippo finish; otherwise I can't understand what you want."

"Mama, the teacher has read us a paper, on which was written that in Sils on the mountain--"

"Shall I, too? Shall I, too?" Maezli, his sister, interrupted again.

"Be quiet, Maezli, till Lippo has finished," the mother commanded.

"He has said the same thing twice already and he is so slow. There has been a fire in Sils on the mountain and we are to send things to the people. Shall I do it, too, Mama, shall I, too?" Maezli had told it all in a single breath.

"You didn't say it right," Lippo retorted angrily. "You didn't start from the beginning. One must not start in the middle, the teacher told us that. Now I'll tell you, Mama. The teacher has read us a paper--"

"We know that already, Lippo," the mother remarked. "What was in the paper?"

"In the paper was written that a big fire in Sils on the mountain has destroyed two houses and everything in them. Then the teacher said that all the pupils of the class--"

"Shall I too, shall I, too?" Maezli urged.

"Finish a little quicker now, Lippo," said the mother.

"Then the teacher said that all the pupils from all the classes must bring some of their things to give to the poor children--"

"Shall I too, Mama, shall I go right away and get together all they need?" Maezli said rapidly, as if the last moment for action had arrived.

"Yes, you can give some of your clothes and Lippo can bring some of his," the mother said. "I shall help you, for we have plenty of time. To-morrow is Sunday and the children are sure not to bring their things to school before Monday, as the teacher will want to send them off himself."

Lippo agreed and was just beginning to repeat the exact words of the teacher in which he had asked for contributions. But he had no chance to do it.

Kurt came running up at this moment, calling so loudly that nothing else could possibly be heard: "Mother, I forgot to give you a message. Bruno is not coming home for supper. The Rector is climbing High Ems with him and the two other boys. They will only be home at nine o'clock."

The mother looked a little frightened. "Are the two others his comrades, the Knippel boys?"

Kurt assented.

"I hope everything will go well," she continued. "When those three are together outside of school they always quarrel. When we came here first I was so glad that Bruno would have them for friends, but now I am in continual fear that they will clash."

"Yes, mother," Kurt asserted, "you would never have been glad of that friendship if you had really known them. Wherever they can harm anybody they are sure to do it, and always behind people's backs. And Bruno always is like a loaded gun-barrel, just a little spark and he is on fire and explodes."

"It is time to go in," said the mother now, taking the two youngest by the hand. Kurt followed. It had not escaped him that an expression of sorrow had spread over his mother's face after his words. He hated to see his mother worried.

"Oh, mother," he said confidently, "there is no reason for you to be upset. If Bruno does anything to them, they are sure to give it back to him in double measure. They'll do it in a sneaky way, because they are afraid of him in the open field."

"Do you really think that this reassures me, Kurt?" she asked turning towards him. Kurt now realized that his words could not exactly comfort his mother, but he felt that some help should be found, for he was always able to discover such a good side to every evil, that the latter was swallowed up. He saw an advantage now. "You know, mother, when Bruno has discharged his thunder, it is all over for good. Then he is like a scrubbed out gun-barrel, all clean and polished. Isn't that better than if things would keep sticking there?"

Mea, standing at the open window, was beckoning to the approaching group with lively gestures; it meant that the time for supper was already overdue. Kurt, rushing to her side, informed her that their mother meant to tell them the story of Wallerstaetten as soon as everything was quiet that night and the little ones were put to bed: "Just mark now if we won't hear about the ghost of Wallerstaetten," he remarked at the end. Kurt was mistaken, however. Everything was still and quiet long ago, the little ones were in bed and the last lessons were done. But Bruno had not yet returned. Over and over again the mother looked at the clock.

"You must not be afraid, mother, that they will have a quarrel, because the rector is with them," Kurt said consolingly.

Now rapid steps sounded outside, the door was violently flung open and Bruno appeared, pale with rage: "Those two mean creatures, those malicious rascals; the sneaky hypocrites!--the--the--"

"Bruno, no more please," the mother interrupted. "You are beside yourself. Come sit down with us and tell us what happened as soon as you feel more quiet; but no more such words, please."

It took a considerable time before Bruno could tell his experience without breaking out again. He told them finally that the rector had mentioned the castle of High Ems in their lessons that day. After asking his pupils if they had ever inspected the famous ruins they had all said no, so the rector invited the three big boys to join him in a walk to see the castle. It was quite a distance away and they had examined the ruins very thoroughly. Afterwards the rector had taken them to a neighboring inn for a treat, so that it was dark already when they were walking down the village street. "Just where the footpath, which comes from the large farmhouse crosses the road," Bruno continued, "Loneli came running along with a full milk-bottle in her arm. That scoundrel Edwin quickly put out his foot in front of her and Loneli fell down her whole length; the milk bottle flew far off and the milk poured down the road like a small white stream. The boys nearly choked with laughter and all I was able to do was to give Edwin a sound box on the ear," Bruno concluded, nearly boiling with rage. "Such a coward! He ran right off after the Rector, who had gone ahead and had not seen it. Loneli went silently away, crying to herself. I'd like to have taken hold of both of them and given them proper--"

"Yes, and Loneli is sure to be scolded by her grandmother for having spilled the milk," Mea interrupted; "she always thinks that Loneli is careless and that it is always her own fault when somebody harms her. She is always punished for the slightest little fault."

"But she never defends herself," Kurt said, half in anger, partly with pity. "If those two ever tried to harm Clevi, they would soon get their faces scratched; Apollonie has brought Loneli up the wrong way."

"Should you like to see Loneli jump at a boy's face and scratch it, Kurt?" asked the mother.

After meditating a while Kurt replied, "I guess I really shouldn't."

"Don't you all like Loneli because she never gets rough and always is friendly, obliging and cheerful? Her grandmother really loves her very much; but she is a very honest woman and worries about the child just because she is anxious to bring her up well. I should be extremely sorry if she scolded Loneli in the first excitement about the spilled milk. The boys should have gotten the blame, and I am sure that Apollonie will be sorry if she hears later on what really happened."

"I'll quickly run over and tell her about it," Kurt suggested. The mother explained to him, however, that grandmother and grandchild were probably fast asleep by that time.

"Are we going to have the story of Castle Wildenstein for a finish now?" he inquired. But his mother had already risen, pointing to the wall clock, and Kurt saw that the usual time for going to bed had passed. As the following day was a Sunday, he was satisfied. They generally had quiet evenings then and there would be no interruptions to the story. Bruno, too, had now calmed down. It had softened him that his mother had found the Knippel boys' behaviour contemptible and that she had not excused them in the least. He might have told the Rector about it, but such accusations he despised. He felt quite appeased since his mother had shared his indignation and knew about the matter. Soon the house lay peacefully slumbering under the fragrant apple trees. The golden moon above was going her way and seemed to look down with friendly eyes, as if she was gratified that the house, which was filled all day with such noise and lively movement, was standing there so calm and peaceful.