Chapter IX. A Secret that is Kept
 

When on the next morning the pastor's family was at breakfast, the pastor arranged that Erick should not go with the other three to school, since he belonged to the school in Lower Wood and it was now too far to go there. When the other three had gone, then Erick should come to him in his study. So it was decided, and when Erick came into the study the pastor pointed to a seat and said: "Now sit down in front of me"--for he himself sat on the large sofa--"look into my eyes, and tell me everything from the beginning and exactly what happened yesterday before you came into church, also what you intended to do, for I have heard all kinds of things."

Erick looked with his large, bright blue eyes straight into the pastor's, and told everything from the beginning: how he was going to be auctioned and did not want to be, what Churi had promised him, how he then had gone with them, also how the others had brought large baskets to put grapes in, but he did not know where they were to get the grapes. The pastor, however, now knew everything, for Sally had reported how the Mayor was expecting his grape-thieves again and how he was going to receive them. It was now quite plain, as one had always suspected, that the same crowd, the Middle Lotters, under Churi's lead, had plundered the vineyard.

"Erick," said the pastor earnestly, "you want to be an honorable man and you mean it seriously so far as you understand the word, I have seen that; but that is not the way which will lead you there. See, you can understand, that you have made friends with a crowd of boys who are on no good road; for, to run about wild on Sunday, when the bells call to church, and to be obliged to hide behind barns from nice people,--you did not learn that from your mother, did you, Erick?"

Erick had to lower his open eyes and answered very low: "No."

"But worse things turn up if one goes with bad boys," the pastor continued. "Through them, one often comes where one never wanted to come. See, if you had not been saved from it through your mother's song which you heard, you would have been caught with the others in the vineyard as a thief, and punished as such. Well, Erick, if your mother should have had to hear that!"

Erick had grown dark red in the face. He was silent for some time, visibly from fear and perplexity, then he asked timidly: "Can I no longer grow to be an honorable man?"

"Yes, indeed, Erick," said the pastor now kindly, "that you can. You know now on what road one cannot go; think of that and keep yourself far from bad companions. And now I will tell you how you can become a man of honor. Do you remember how the verse in your mother's song goes, which begins:

    "'Thy Zion scatters palms
     And greening twigs for Thee,
     But I in glorious psalms
     Will lift my soul to Thee!'"

In an instant Erick continued:

     "'My heart be overflowing
     In constant love and praise,
     In service will be growing,
     Will Thy dear name then grace.'"

"Erick, you must never forget these words. If you bring all your deeds before the dear God and look to it before Him, whether you 'Will grace His dear name' as well as you know, then you will become a genuinely honorable man. Will you think on it?"

"Yes, I will," Erick promised gladly, as now he looked up again to the pastor freely and openly.

"Then," the latter said after a while, "there is still something else, Erick. Have you known your father?"

"No."

"Do you know if he is still alive, where he is?"

"Mother told me father had gone to America, to make a large fortune for himself and for us; but he has not yet returned."

"Do you know other relatives, sisters or brothers of your mother, or some close friends?"

"No."

"Don't you know of anyone to whom one could turn, who would look after you?"

"No, no," said Erick, quite anxiously.

But the pastor put his hand very kindly on Erick's head and said: "You must not be afraid, my boy, all will come out all right. You may go now."

Erick rose; he hesitated for a moment, then he asked somewhat falteringly: "Must I go now directly to be auctioned? I am afraid Marianne has gone by now."

"No, no," the pastor answered quickly, "you will not go there at all, not at all. Now you go down to Mamma, she will keep you for the present."

Erick's eyes shone for joy. He had thought up till now that he would be sent to the auction, away from the happy life in the parsonage, but now this threatening bugbear was done away with forever. When Erick entered the sitting-room he found old Marianne sitting there. They had sent word, the evening before, that Erick would not come back for the night, but Marianne could not have gone away without taking leave of him. With many tears she bade him good-bye, and Erick too felt sorry that good old Marianne was going away; but since he might stay in the parsonage, it was indeed a different thing for him than if he had had to remain behind alone.

The weeping Marianne had hardly left the door, when the stately Mayor came in and went with firm steps toward the pastor's study. Early in the morning, when he was going into the vineyard, he had met the Justice of Peace, and heard from him all the happenings of yesterday, how Erick had spoiled the game for the grape-thieves, and how they, the would-be thieves, had run far beyond the next two villages before they even became aware that it was only their allies who were chasing them. Kaetheli had learned all that, and had reported it to her father. The Mayor was quite satisfied with the outcome of the affair, and since he looked on Erick as the saver of his grapes, he now came to the pastor to talk over what could be done for the poor orphan.

The gentlemen held a long consultation, for both were anxious to find the most suitable plan for the boy; but they could not come to an agreement. The Mayor proposed that since the little fellow did not appear to be very strong, it would be best to apprentice him to an easy trade. He thought it would be best to put him to board at the tailor's, then he would grow into the trade without much trouble, and would have nice companions in the tailor's own boys; they were suited to each other, for the tailor's sons were also dressed as cleanly and carefully as he was. But the pastor had other thoughts; he had a good institute in his mind, where Erick could be cared for at once and later be educated for a teacher. This also suited the Mayor, and he took leave with the assurance that he would make Erick a nice little gift, for the little fellow had shown him a greater kindness than he could know, which the pastor verified.

When later the pastor told his wife of their transaction, she did not quite agree with it; she thought that she might keep the orphaned Erick for a while with her; in fact she should prefer to keep him altogether, for she had already taken this loving, trusting boy deep into her heart. But the pastor convinced her that the "keeping altogether" could not be done, since there were nearer obligations to all kinds of relatives, so that one could not give the little stranger preference in such a way. But he gladly granted the wish of his wife to keep Erick at least a few weeks in their home; for, he said, one could postpone his entrance into the institute until the beginning of the new year.

When the children were told of the decision there was great rejoicing, for Edi had put into Ritz's head a large number of splendid undertakings, which could be carried out only by three people, and Sally knew of nothing in the whole world that could have given her greater joy than that now she could be with the new friend from day to day; for he was in every way what she could wish, and in many ways he was much nicer than she could have imagined from the manners of her former friends.

Erick had such a happy, refined, thoughtful disposition, that it seemed to Sally as if she lived in continuous sunshine when she was with him. The aunt also agreed with the decision to keep the boy in the parsonage, although at first she had seen in it a disturbance in the order of the household, since the increasing of the number would mean that in the evening it would take even longer to get to a settlement. But when she noticed that Erick, on the first hint, rose at once and did what was desired, then her fears turned to hopes that one might impress the others a little with this ever-ready boy, which impressed her very favorably. 'Lizebeth alone continued her dislike of the new-comer, and whenever she met him in the house she measured him with her eyes from his head to as far as the velvet reached.

Erick soon felt quite at home in the parsonage. He now went with the three children to the same school, shared Edi's historical interest as long as the latter entertained him with it, which was the case on every walk to school, and as often as possible besides, for Edi found large gaps in the historical knowledge of his new friend and felt himself called upon to fill them in. Erick was a good listener and often put questions which drove Edi to new, deep studies and which excited him so much that he had almost no other thoughts but Rome and Carthage.

With good-natured Ritz, Erick was also on good terms. The little fellow ran after him wherever he went, and looked delighted when he saw him from afar; then he rushed at him and was always sure of a pleasant reception and jocular conversation, for Erick was always friendly, talkative and in good humor, and never buried in history books which often made Edi unhappy. So Ritz spent all the time out of school either with Erick, or seeking him, which however sometimes cost him a good deal of time, for the very nearest friends, after all, were Erick and Sally. The two could not be separated. There was a great similarity in their temperaments, for what the one wanted the other liked also, and what the one did not like, did not please the other, and both liked nothing better than to go together up into the woods, where under the old fir-tree was the small bench on which they could sit and tell each other all they knew; or to go down to the foaming Woodbach and there, sitting on the stones near the bank, watch the tossing waves rush down. They never seemed to lack topics of conversation. Erick told about his mother, and how they had lived together, and of her beautiful singing; and Sally never grew weary of hearing again and again the same stories, and would keep on asking questions.

So they sat on their bench under the tree on the sunny Sunday afternoon in the first week in October, and Sally had just begun her questions. This time she wanted to know why the mother had sent Erick to Lower Wood to school and not to Upper Wood, where all good people from Middle Lot came--Kaetheli, for example. Then Erick told her that his mother had asked Marianne about the schools, and after Marianne had explained everything to her, and that fewer children went to Lower Wood and mostly children who were not so well-known, then his mother had at once decided that he should go there. "For you see, Sally, we were obliged to be alone and hide ourselves until I had become an honorable man."

"But why? I do not understand it at all," Sally said somewhat impatiently. "And then afterwards when you had become an honorable man, what did you want to do, if you did not know anyone?"

"I should very much like to tell it to you, Sally," Erick answered very seriously, "but you would have to promise me that you would tell it to no human being; never, not if it should take many, many years."

"Yes, yes, I will surely promise that," Sally said quickly, for she was very anxious to hear the secret.

"No, Sally, you must consider it well," said Erick, and held his hands behind his back, to let her have time, "then if you have decided that you will tell no human being one single word, then you must promise it to me with a firm handshake."

Sally had fully decided. "Just give me your hand, Erick," she urged. "So, I promise you that I will tell to no one a single word of that which you want to tell me."

Now Erick felt safe. "You see, Sally," he began, "in Denmark there is a very large, beautiful estate, with a beautiful lawn before the house to which one can go directly through large doors out of the halls, and in the middle of the lawn are the beautiful flower-beds just filled with roses; and on the other side of the house one goes across to the large, old oaks, where the horses graze--for there are many beautiful horses. And on the left side of the house one comes directly into the small forest; there is a pond quite surrounded by dense trees, and a small bench stands above and from there one descends three steps to the little boat that has two oars, and my mother liked best to sit there and row about the pond. For, you see, my mother lived there when she was a child, and also later when she was grown up. And there below, where the lawn stops, begin the large stables where the horses are when they are not grazing; and my mother had her own little white horse. She rode about on that with grandfather or with old John. Oh, that was so beautiful! But once Mother was disobedient to grandfather, for she wanted to go far away with my father, and grandfather would not have it; but she went, and then she was not allowed to come back, and everything was over."

Sally had listened with breathless attention. Now she burst out: "Dear, dear, what a pity! That is exactly like Adam and Eve in Paradise! But where did your mother go to? And who is now on that beautiful estate?"

"Mother went far away to Paris, then to many other places, and at last we came to Middle Lot. My grandfather still lives on the estate."

"Oh, Erick, we will write a letter at once to your grandfather and ask him whether you may now come home again?"

"Oh, no, no! I dare not do that," opposed Erick. "I must not go to my grandfather until I have become an honorable man, so that I may say to him: 'I will not bring shame on your name, Grandfather, but Mother would like to make up through me for what you have suffered through her!' I have promised that to my mother!"

"Oh, what a pity, what a pity!" lamented Sally, "you may never go to the beautiful estate until you are a man; that will be a terrible long time. And then you have to go away in the winter to quite strange people, to an institute. Oh, if you only could go to the beautiful estate, to Grandfather! Can it not be brought about, Erick? Can no one help you?"

"No, that is quite impossible," said Erick, thoroughly convinced. "But now, since you know all, I will tell you a good deal more about the estate, for I know much more, and Mother and I have talked so often about it," so Erick told more and more until they reached home, where both of them were much distracted, for both were wandering in thought about the beautiful estate far away. The mother looked several times now at the one, then at the other, for nothing unusual in her children ever escaped her motherly eye; but she said nothing. When later she had prayed with the children, and was now standing in her own bedroom, she heard how Sally, in her little bedroom beside hers, was praying loud and earnestly to God.

The mother wondered what could so occupy the thoughts of her little girl, who was usually so open and communicative. What had happened this evening, and what was urging her to such a pleading prayer, and why had she not said a word about it? Could the child have a secret trouble? She softly opened the door a little, and now heard how Sally several times in succession fervently prayed: "Oh, dear God, please bring it about that Erick may come to his grandfather on the beautiful estate."

Now the mother entered Sally's room. "My dear child," she said, "for what did you pray just now to the dear God? Will you explain it to me?"

But Sally made such an uproar that the mother stopped with surprise. "You did not hear it, Mother? I hope you have not understood it, Mother. Have you? You must not know it, Mother, no one must know it. It is a great secret."

"But, dear child, do be quiet and listen to me," said the mother kindly. "I heard that you prayed to the dear God for something for Erick. Perhaps we, too, could do something for him. Tell me what you know, for it may lead to something good for him."

"No, no," cried Sally in the greatest excitement, "I will say nothing, I have promised him, and I do not know anything else than for what I have prayed." And Sally threw herself on her pillow and began to sob.

Now the mother ordered her to be quiet and let the thing rest. She would not ask her any more, nor speak of it. Sally should do as she felt, and surrender everything to the dear God. But the mother put two things together in her mind. When Marianne had come to take leave, she had questioned her about Erick's mother and the latter's condition; also whether Marianne knew her maiden name. But Marianne did not know much, only once she had seen a strange name, but had not been able to read it. It was when Erick, at one time, had taken the cover from his mother's little Bible; then she saw a name written with golden letters. Erick must have the little Bible. The lady had seen the little black book in Erick's box and had taken off the close-fitting cover and had found written in fine gold letters the name, "Hilda von Vestentrop". She at once assumed that this must be the maiden name of Erick's mother; but she knew nothing further.

Now she had learned through Sally's prayer that Denmark had been her native land, and that a father was living there. All this she told to her husband the same evening, and proposed that he should write at once to this gentleman in Denmark.

The pastor leaned far back in his armchair and stared at his wife with astonishment. "Dear wife," he said at last, "do you really believe that I could send a letter addressed 'von Vestentrop, Denmark'? This address is no doubt enough for the dear God, but not for short-sighted human beings."

But the wife did not give in. She reminded her husband that he knew their countryman, the pastor of the French church in Copenhagen, and that he perhaps could help him onto the track of von Vestentrop; the latter must be the owner of an estate and such a gentleman could be found. And the wife spoke so long and so impressively to her husband that he finally sat down that very evening and wrote two letters. The one he addressed "To Mr. von Vestentrop in Denmark". This one he enclosed in the second and addressed that to his acquaintance, the pastor of the French church in Copenhagen. Then he laid the heavy letter on his writing-table so that early to-morrow morning 'Lizebeth would find it and carry it to the post office.