Chapter I. In the Parsonage of Upper Wood
 

The sun was shining so brightly through the foremost windows of the old schoolhouse in Upper Wood, that the children of the first and second classes appeared as if covered with gold. They looked at one another, all with beaming faces, partly because the sun made them appear so, and partly for joy; for when the sunshine came through the last window, then the moment approached that the closing word would be spoken, and the children could rush out into the evening sunshine. The teacher was still busy with the illuminated heads of the second class, and indeed with some zeal, for several sentences had still to be completed, before the school could be closed. The teacher was standing before a boy who looked well-fed and quite comfortable, and who was looking up into the teacher's face with eyes as round as two little balls.

"Well, Ritz, hurry, you surely must have thought of something by now. Now then! What can be made useful in a household? Do not forget to mention the three indispensable qualities of the object."

Ritz, the youngest son of the minister, was usually busy thinking of that which had just happened to him. So just now it had come to his mind, how this very morning Auntie had arrived. She was an older sister of his mother and had no home of her own; but made a home with her relatives. She was a frequent visitor at the parsonage for months at a time and would help the mother in governing the household. Ritz remembered especially, that Auntie was particularly inclined to have the children go to bed in good time--and they had to go--and he also remembered that they could not get the extra ten minutes from Mother, for Auntie was always against begging Mother. In fact, Auntie talked so much about going to bed, that Ritz felt the feared command of retiring during the whole day. So his thoughts were occupied with these experiences, and he said after some thinking: "One can make use of an aunt in a household. She must--she must--she must--"

"Well, what must she? That will be something different from a quality," the teacher interrupted the laborious speech of the boy.

"She must not always be reminding that it is time to go to bed," it now came out.

"Ritz," the teacher said now in a severe tone, "is the school the place to joke?"

But Ritz looked at the teacher with such unmistakable fright and astonishment, that the latter saw that it was an honest opinion which Ritz had made use of in his sentence. He therefore changed his mind and said more gently: "Your sentence is unfitting and incorrect, for your three qualities are not there. Do you understand that, Ritz? You will have to make three sentences at home, all alike; but do not forget the different qualities. Have you understood me?"

"Yes, teacher," answered Ritz in deepest dejection, for he already saw himself sitting alone in the evening thinking and thinking and gnawing on his slate pencil, while Sally and Edi could pursue their merry entertainments.

Now the end of school was announced. In a short time the door was opened, and the boys and girls hastened out toward the open place before the schoolhouse, where suddenly all were crowded together like a huge ball, from the midst of which came a tremendous noise and confused shoutings. Something out of the common must have happened.

"In the house of old Marianne"--"a tremendously rich lady"--"a piano, four men could not get it in, the door is too narrow"--"a small boy"--"before we went to school"--It was so confused, nothing could really be understood. Then a voice shouted: "All come along! Perhaps they are not through with it, come, all of you to the Middle Lot!" And suddenly the whole ball separated, and almost the whole crowd ran in the same direction.

Only two boys remained on the playground and looked at each other, quite perplexed. The one was stout little Ritz, who long since had forgotten his great trouble and had listened intently to the exciting, although incomprehensible story. The other was his brother Edi, a slender, tall fellow with a high forehead and serious grey eyes beneath. He was hardly two years older than his brother; but for his not quite nine years, he was tall, and appeared much older than the seven-year-old Ritz.

"We must run home quickly and ask whether we too may go; we must see that, Ritz, so hurry up!" With these words Edi pulled his brother along, and soon they turned round the corner and also disappeared.

Behind the schoolhouse, near the hawthorn hedge, stood the last of the crowd in animated conversation. It was Sally, the ten-year-old sister of the two boys, with her friend Kaetheli, who with great excitement seemed to describe an occurrence.

"But Kaetheli, I do not know the beginning," said Sally. "Just you begin at the beginning, from where you saw everything with your own eyes, will you?"

"Very well, I will, but this time you must pay close attention," said Kaetheli. "You know that the old blind straw-plaiter lived with the little girl Meili at old Marianne's? Well, Meili went to school at Lower Wood. Two weeks ago her father died and Meili had to go to Lower Wood to her uncle. Then Marianne cleaned the bedroom and the sitting-room terribly clean, opened all the windows, and afterwards closed them all again and put on the shutters. She herself lives in the little room above. But this morning everything was open, and yet Marianne had said nothing about it to anyone and all people in Middle Lot were surprised at that. At half-past eleven, just when we were coming out of school, we saw a wagon coming up the hill from Lower Wood, and the horse could hardly pull the load, for there was a large piano on the wagon, a bed, and lots of other things, a table and a little box, and I think that was all. Now the wagon stopped at old Marianne's cottage, and all at once there came out of the cottage old Marianne and a woman, who was quite white in the face, and behind them came a little boy, and no one had seen them come up. Then four men of Middle Lot wanted to carry the piano into the cottage but it would not go through the door because the door was too narrow and the piano too wide. And all who stood around to look said she must be a very rich woman, because she had such a large piano. But no one knew from where she came, and when anyone asked old Marianne she snarled and said: 'I haven't any time.'

"All the people around are surprised that a rich lady should come to old Marianne in the wooden cottage; my father has said long since that the cottage would tumble over one of these days. And Sally! I wish you could see the woman, you too would be surprised that she should make her home there. Just think, she wears a black silk skirt on week-days!"

"And what about the boy, how does he look?" asked Sally, who had followed her friend's story with close attention.

"I had almost forgotten him," continued Kaetheli. "Just think, he wears velvet pants, quite short black velvet pants and a velvet jacket and a cap to match. Just imagine a boy with velvet pants!"

"I should think that would be quite pretty," observed Sally, "but what does he look like otherwise?"

"I have forgotten that, I had to watch the moving of the piano. He is nothing particular to look at."

"Kaetheli, do you know what?" Sally said, "you go home with me. I want to ask whether I may go home with you for a little while. I should like to see that too, and then afterwards we will both go to old Marianne's to call, will you?"

Kaetheli was ready at once to carry out the plan, and the children ran together toward the parsonage.

It was only a little while before, that Edi and Ritz had arrived home panting for breath. In the garden on the bench under the large apple-tree, Mother and Auntie were sitting mending and conversing over the bringing-up of the children; for Auntie knew many a good advice, quite new and not worn out. Now they heard hasty running, and Edi and Ritz came rushing along.

"May we--in the Middle Lot--to the Middle Lot--people have arrived--a wagon and a piano--a terribly rich woman and a--"

Both shouted in confusion, breathlessly and incomprehensibly.

"Now," the aunt cried into the noise, "if you behave like two canary birds who suddenly have become crazy, no human being can understand a word. One is to be silent and the other may talk, or still better both be silent."

But Ritz and Edi could do neither. If Edi began to report, then Ritz had to follow. It always had been so, and to be silent at this moment of excitement, that could not be expected; therefore both began afresh and would no doubt have continued thus for some time if Sally and Kaetheli had not arrived on the scene. They made everything clear in a short time.

But the mother did not like to have her children run to the Middle Lot for the sake of staring at strange people who had arrived there, and to increase the gaping crowd who, no doubt, were standing in front of Marianne's cottage. She did not give the longed-for permission, but she invited Kaetheli to stay at the parsonage and take afternoon coffee with the children and afterwards play in the garden.

That was at least something; Sally and Ritz were satisfied, and they ran at once with Kaetheli into the house. But Edi showed a dissatisfied face, for wherever something strange could be seen or found, he had to be there.

He stood there without saying a word. He was thinking whether he dared to work on his mother to get the desired permission. He feared, however, the auxiliary troops which his aunt would lead into battle to help his mother. But before he had weighed all sides his aunt said: "Well, Edi, have you not yet swallowed the defeat? Isn't there some old Roman, or Egyptian, who also could not always do what he wanted? Just you think that over and you will see that it will help you."

That helped, indeed, for Edi was a great searcher in history, and when he happened in that field, then all other interests were pushed into the background. He at once remembered that he had not finished reading about his old Egyptian, and with a smoothed brow he ran into the house.

The sun had set and it was growing dark among the bushes in the garden, where the children, with red cheeks, were seeking each other and hiding again. All of a sudden there came a loud, penetrating call: "To bed, to bed!" Ritz had just found a fine hiding-place in the henhouse, where he had comfortably settled, secure from being discovered, when this terrible call reached him. It struck him like a thunderbolt. Yes, it took his breath away so that he turned white and hadn't the strength to rise; for, with the call came the remembrance of the three sentences which he had to write: three whole sentences and nine different qualities, and he had forgotten everything, and now all the time had gone and he had to go to bed.

"Where are you, Ritz?" It sounded into his hiding-place. "Come, crawl out. I know you are in there and will be covered with feathers from head to foot."

The aunt stood before the henhouse, and Sally and Kaetheli beside her full of expectation, for they had sought Ritz for a long time in vain. But Auntie had experience in such things. Ritz actually came crawling out of the henhouse and stood now in a lamentable condition before his aunt.

"How you do look! You ought to have been in bed an hour ago, you haven't a drop of blood in your cheeks," the aunt exclaimed. "What is the matter with you, Ritz?"

"Where is Mamma?" asked Ritz in his fright.

"She is upstairs; come, she will put you to bed at once when I have got you finally together. Come, Sally, and you, Kaetheli, go home now."

With these words she took Ritz by the hand, and drew him up the stone steps into the house, and wanted to bring him up the stairs to the bedroom. Then everything was over and no rescue from going to bed at once. Now Ritz stopped his aunt and groaned: "I must--I must--I have to write three sentences for punishment."

"There we have it." But Ritz looked so miserable that Auntie felt great pity for him. "Come in here," she said, and shoved him into the living-room, "and take out your things."

Now she sat down beside him and the whole affair proceeded finely. Not that Auntie formed the sentences, no indeed, she was not going to cheat the teacher; but she knew well what was needed to form a sentence and she pushed and spurred Ritz and brought so many things before him, and reminded him how they looked, that he had his three sentences and his nine qualities together in no time. Now there came a feeling to Ritz that he had not acted right, when he said that an aunt must not always be reminding people, and when now Auntie asked: "Ritz, why had you to write the sentences?" then the feeling grew stronger in him, for he felt that he could not tell the cause of his punishment without making his aunt angry. He stuttered, "I have--I have--the teacher has said, that I made an unfitting sentence."

"Yes, I can imagine that," said Auntie. "Now quickly to bed."

Edi and Ritz slept in the same room and that was the place where the two boys, every evening after the mother had said evening prayer with them, and they were alone, exchanged their deepest thoughts and experiences with one another and talked them over. Ritz had the greatest respect for Edi, for although the latter was only a little older, yet he was already in the fourth class, and he himself was only in the second, and in history Edi knew more than the scholars in the fifth and some in the sixth class. When now the two were well tucked in their beds, Ritz said: "Edi, was it a sin that I said Auntie must not always remind?" Edi thought a bit, such a case had never come to him. After a while he said: "You see, Ritz, it goes thus: if you have done something that is a sin, then you must go at once to Daddy and confess, there is no help for it; but if you do that, then everything comes again in order and you feel happy again, and afterwards you look out not to do the sinful thing again. I can tell you that, Ritz. But if you do not confess, then you are always full of fear when a door is slammed or a letter-carrier unexpectedly brings a letter, then you think at once: 'There now, everything will come out.' And so you are never sure nor safe and you feel a pressure in the chest. But there is another thing that presses so hard that you can think of nothing else, for example, if you have given away a rabbit, you regret it afterwards. But there is a remedy and I have tried it many a time, and it helps. You must think of something dreadful, like a large fire, when everything is burnt up, the fortress and the soldiers in it and all historical books, and--all at once you think everything backwards and you have everything; then you are so glad that you think: what difference does a rabbit make? You still have everything else. Now Ritz, try that and see if it helps you, then you can find out whether everything passes away or whether you have to tell Daddy tomorrow."

"Yes, I will try it," said Ritz somewhat indistinctly, and soon after he took such deep breaths that Edi knew what was going on. He heaved a sigh and said: "Oh, Ritz, you are asleep and I wanted to tell you so much about the old Egyptian."

A little while afterwards the whole peaceful parsonage of Upper Wood lay in deep sleep; only old 'Lizebeth went about the passage calling: "Bs, bs, bs." She wanted to get the old grey cat into the kitchen to catch the mice during the night. 'Lizebeth had been in the parsonage of Upper Wood as long as one could remember, for there had always been a son, and when the time had come, then he had become parson in Upper Wood. First 'Lizebeth had served the grandfather, then the father and now the son, and she had long since elected Edi as the future minister, and intended to look after his house when he should be the master here.