Chapter II. A Call in the Village
 

The friendly village Upper Wood lay on the top of the hill close by the fir wood; it had a beautiful white church with a high, slender tower. At a distance of three-quarters of an hour's walk, down in the valley, lay Lower Wood, a small community which, however, did not wish to be considered smaller. They had a new schoolhouse and a church of their own, but the church had no tower, only a little red dome. Therefore the people of Upper Wood were a little proud, because their church was much prettier and also because they learned much more in the old schoolhouse in Upper Wood than in the new one of Lower Wood; but that was the children's fault, not the teacher's. In the middle, between the two villages lay a hamlet consisting of a few farms and some small houses of little pretense. It was called the Middle Lot, and its people the Middle Lotters. They had the choice to what church and school they wished to belong, whether to Lower Wood or Upper Wood, and according to their choice they were judged by the people of Upper Wood; for whoever wanted to learn much and be decent, he must, according to the Upper Wooders, strive to belong to them. This was a fixed and general idea of the people on the top of the hill. In the Middle Lot there lived only two families who were generally respected; the Justice of Peace, who was obliged to live there because otherwise he would have to be called there, and that would have been inconvenient. This peace-making man was Kaetheli's father. And the other was old Marianne, who lived in her own house and pulled horse-hair for a living, and never did harm to anyone.

When on the next morning the three children of the parsonage passed Marianne's house on their way to school, Sally said: "It is fun to go to school to-day for the strange boy of yesterday will come too; if we only knew his name. Kaetheli described him to me; he wears velvet pants. Of course he will come to Upper Wood to school."

"Of course," said Edi with a dignified air; "who would think of going to Lower Wood to School?"

"Of course, who would go there to school?" observed Ritz.

Then the three in perfect harmony entered the schoolhouse. But no strange face was to be seen in the whole schoolroom; everything went on in the usual way to the end of the morning. Then everyone hurried away in different directions. Sally was standing there, somewhat undecided; she would like to have heard something new of the strange boy and his mother, for she loved to hear news, and now not even Kaetheli, with whom she talked things over, had been in school. But now she saw Edi soaring along like an arrow into the midst of a crowd of boys, and they all acted so strangely and they shouted so strangely that Sally thought that something particular must be in preparation there, and no doubt concerned the new-comers. Then she could hear something from Edi. She went slowly on and kept on turning round, but Edi did not come, and only after Sally had long since greeted the mother and was about to call her father out of his study for dinner, did the two brothers come running along, their faces red as fire, and breathless, for they had lingered to the last moment. The father was just leaving his study when both rushed toward him and now it began: "We have--the Middle Lotters--with the Lower Wooders--"

"Hush, hush," said the father. "First get your breath, then relate, one after the other; but before anything, first the soup." With these words the father took Ritz's hand, and Sally and Edi followed them into the dining-room. Sally pulled Edi a little back and whispered:

"Tell me quickly, what did they tell about the strange boy?"

"About him?" returned Edi in a somewhat scornful tone. "I had forgotten all about him! We have something else to do than to talk about a strange boy, of whom one does not even know whether he will come to Upper Wood to school."

This answer was somewhat unexpected to Sally and had a saddening effect; but she always could find a way out of an unpleasant situation. So she sat as still as a mouse during the whole time the soup was eaten, and her thoughts were hard at work.

Now the father turned to Edi and said: "Now you can relate your adventure, while Ritz remains quiet, and afterwards his turn will come." Ritz looked quite obedient for he had two large noodles on his plate to work with.

But Edi, in a moment, put down knife and fork and quickly began: "Just think, Papa, we have made three songs, one for each parish. First, the Lower Wooders began. The sixth class were angry because we laughed at them, that they only now have to make sentences, and we in the fourth class have begun to write them already. They made a song about us which runs:

    "'Of Upper Wood the boys
     They in their minds rejoice
     Because they think that they the cleverest are,
     But if ever they must fight
     They are in sorry plight
     And they turn round and run for ever so far.'

"How do you like that song, Papa?"

"Well, that is such as Lower Wooders would make," said the father.

"And then," Edi continued, "we have made a song for an answer, that goes thus:

    "'And of Lower Wood the crowd
     They always yell so loud
     That they never, never stay within their den,
     For all dispute and strife
     They are much alive
     For they use their fists when they ought to use their pen.'

"How do you like this one, Papa?"

"Just about the same. And who has sung about the Middle Lot?" asked the father.

"The Lower Wooders and we together; they too had to have a song, but the shortest, as it ought to be. It runs so:

    "'And they of Middle Lot
     They all together plot
     That they are striving zealously for peace,
     But with quarrelling they never cease.'

"And how do you like that, Papa?"

"They are, all three of them, kind of fighting songs, Edi," answered the father, "and I should prefer that you keep busy with your history studies, instead of taking sides in these party-fights. One never knows where one comes out, and such poetry usually ends with lumps on the heads."

Edi seemed much disappointed as he attacked his noodles with a visibly spoiled appetite.

"And what has been your experience, Sally? Why are you so pensive?" the father continued.

"Kaetheli was not at school," reported Sally, "and I had so much to talk over with her. Perhaps she is sick; may I go to see her this afternoon? We have no school, you know."

"Aha, Sally wants to see the strange boy," the sharp-witted Edi remarked.

"You may go, Sally," the mother said, answering a questioning look from the father. "But you will not go into any house where you have no business, just to look at strangers. I know you are capable of doing such things. You can start soon after dinner."

Sally was very happy. She quickly fetched her straw hat and took leave. But outside she did not run straight through the passage-way as she usually did in similar cases, but went to the kitchen door and peeped in, and when she saw 'Lizebeth at the sink, where the latter was scraping her pans, she went in very close to the old woman and said somewhat mysteriously: "'Lizebeth, does Edi or Ritz perhaps have a torn mattress on their bed?"

'Lizebeth stopped scraping and turned round. She looked at Sally from head to foot, put her hands on her hips and said very slowly and importantly: "May I ask what you mean by that question, Sally? Do you think this household is so carried on that one lies about on ragged mattresses and sleeps, until a little one, who is far from old enough to turn a mattress, thinks of coming to ask 'does not this one or that one have a ragged mattress' on his bed? Yes, Sally, what cobwebs you do have in your head."

"I do not care about the mattress, it is on account of Marianne that I ask," Sally explained. "Do you know, she now has some new people in her house and I should so much like to see them, and therefore I wanted so much to know whether you could not sacrifice a mattress so that Marianne could pull the horsehair for a mattress, for Mother will not let me go into the house without a good excuse."

"Oh, so! that is different," said 'Lizebeth quite mildly, for she had also been wondering what kind of people her old friend had taken into her home, and now, perhaps, she could learn something about them through Sally.

"I can help you, Sally," she said. "You go to Marianne and tell her that I send my greetings, and I have long since intended to come and see her, but the likes of us cannot get away when we want to; we never know what may happen if we are out of the house for five minutes; but tell her that I will surely come some fine Sunday. Now then go, and give my message."

Sally ran with a joyous heart, first through the garden, then away over the meadow and down the hill as far as the fir wood, where the dry road lay for a long stretch in the shade. Here Sally slackened her pace a little. It was so beautiful to walk along in shade of the trees, where above in their tops the wind rustled so delightfully and all the birds sang in confusion. She also had to consider how she would arrange her calls, whether she would go first to Kaetheli or to Marianne; but this time old Marianne had a stronger attraction than Kaetheli and Sally felt that she must go there first and give her message. Now her thoughts fell on the strange people and she had to imagine how they looked and what she was going to say, and what they would say when she knocked and asked for Marianne. Thus she thought everything well out, for Sally had a great power of imagining things.

In this way she came to the first houses of Middle Lot. She turned away from the road and went toward Marianne's house, which stood a little way from the road and lay almost hidden behind a hedge. As Sally had been accustomed to do, she now ran right into the house, although the house door was also the kitchen door. After entering the front door she stood in the small kitchen and was at once before another door which led into the living-room. This door stood wide open and Sally found herself suddenly in the presence of a lady dressed in black, who sat in that room sewing and who lifted her head at Sally's noisy entrance, and with large sad eyes she looked at the child in silence.

Sally grew as red as fire and in her embarrassment remained standing near the door like one rooted to the floor.

Now the lady held out her hand and said in a friendly tone, "Come here, dear child, what brings you to me?"

Sally was quite confused. She did not remember why she had come, for she had really not come to see Marianne. She had invented that--to get into the house where she had arrived now so unexpectedly. She approached the lady and wanted to say something, but nothing came out. Sally grew crimson and stood there more helpless than ever before in her life.

The lady took the child's hand and stroked her glowing cheeks.

"Come, sit down beside me, dear child," she then said, with a voice so sweet that it went deep into Sally's heart. "Come, we shall come gradually to know each other a little."

Now there came from out of a corner a quick noise of moving; Sally did not know what it was, for until now she had not dared to look around the room, but now she looked up.

A boy, a little taller than she, was carrying a small easy chair and placed it before Sally. He looked at her with such a merry face as the restrained laughter came so visibly out of his eyes, that the sight brought a complete reversion in Sally's feelings, and she, all at once, laughed right out; upon which, the boy too, relieved his feelings by a bright peal of laughter, for the rushing in and then the confusion of the unexpected guest had long since tempted him to laugh; but he was too well trained to dare to break out.

"Well, my child," said the mother with that winning voice, "and what has brought you to me?"

"I have--I ought to--I wanted," Sally began hesitatingly, "I wanted to give a message to Marianne--" Sally could not stop at half the truth. The sad, friendly eyes of the lady were penetratingly resting on hers, so everything had to come out as it was.

"That is lovely and friendly of you, that you want to see us, dear little girl. How did you hear of us?" asked the lady, and took off Sally's straw hat, while she put the question to the child. She placed the hat on the table and smoothed her hair with a mother's touch.

Now Sally related all in full confidence how it had happened, and that she and her two brothers had wanted to come yesterday to find out who was coming to live with Marianne, and to find out how the piano and all the other things could find room in the little house. Sally now, for the first time, looked around the room and she had to wonder a little, for she saw only the piano and four bare walls, and then there were the two easy chairs on which she and the lady were sitting, and the small table. She knew that besides this room there was a very small bedroom, where two beds could hardly find room. Sally could not set herself to rights; all was so different from what she had imagined. She had expected to see strange and foreign things standing about everywhere and now she saw nothing besides an old piano. And yet the lady who sat before her in a black silken dress looked more aristocratic than Sally could ever have imagined; and the boy in his velvet suit looked quite like the old knights in Edi's beautiful picture book, and he had brought her a seat without anyone telling him, and was more refined and courteous than she had ever before seen a boy.

When Sally turned her surprised eyes again to the lady, she saw such a painful expression in her face that it came involuntarily into her mind how the mother had said, that of course "she would not go there for the sake of staring at the people," and she felt that she was doing something very much like it. Sally rose. All at once she remembered to whom she really wanted to go, so she said hastily: "I must go to Kaetheli; she may be sick." With these words she quickly offered her hand to the lady.

The lady, too, had risen; she took the proffered hand, held it between both of hers, and looked once more so lovingly into the child's eyes, that her little heart was moved. Then she kissed her forehead and said: "You dear child, you were a friendly picture in our quiet room."

Then she let go of her hand, and Sally went through the open door into the small kitchen. The boy, meanwhile, had opened the house door and now he stood outside quite courteously, like a doorkeeper, to bid Sally good-bye.

"Are you not coming to school tomorrow?"

"Yes, indeed," was the answer.

That pleased Sally very much and she at once decided that he must become Edi's friend, for she had taken a great liking to the boy and when he was Edi's friend then he would be hers too, and he must come every Sunday afternoon and spend it with them and they would teach him all kinds of games; and many undertakings passed through her brain, for with this friend everything could be carried out; he was so entirely different from other boys and girls in the school. "Then you are coming to-morrow?" she asked with happy expectation.

"Where shall I come?" he questioned in return.

"To school, of course."

"Yes, indeed, I'll come to school."

"Well, then, good-bye," said Sally, giving her hand, "but I do not know your name."

"Erick--and yours?"

"Sally."

Now they shook hands, and Erick remained standing in the doorway until Sally had turned round the hedge, then he shut the door and Sally ran toward the house of the Justice of Peace. Before she reached it, old Marianne met her, panting under the large bundle of horsehair which she was carrying on her head. Sally was delighted to see her, for she had just remembered that she had not given 'Lizebeth's message. She rushed so quickly toward the old woman and with such force, that the latter went back some steps and almost lost her balance, and Sally cried out: "Marianne, you have such nice people in your rooms. Do you talk much with them? Do you cook for them? Do you buy the things they need? Have they no maid? Do you make their beds?"

"Gently, gently," said Marianne, who had recovered her balance, "else I lose my breath. But tell me, how did you get into the people's room? I hope you know how I am to be found."

Sally told her that she, for the shorter way, had not gone round the house, where, in the woodshed, a narrow stair went up to Marianne's small room; but that she had wanted to run in the front way, through the kitchen, and out the back door; but that she had stood suddenly before the open door of the room and under the eyes of the lady.

"You must never do that again," Marianne interrupted Sally, raising her finger warningly. "Do you hear that, Sally? Never do that again. They are not people into whose home you can rush, as if they were living on the highway."

"But the lady was quite friendly, Marianne," soothed Sally, "she was not at all offended."

"That makes no difference, she is always so, she could not be otherwise, and just on that account, and on account of many other things, do you hear, Sally? Promise that you never again go that way when you want to come to me. Will you promise?"

"Yes, indeed I will. I do not intend to do it again. Good night, Marianne! Now I have forgotten the main thing: 'Lizebeth sends her greetings and she will come to see you on a fine Sunday."

The last words came from some distance, for Sally had already started on a run while she gave the message, and when Marianne wanted to send her greetings, Sally was already far away. After a few more jumps Sally arrived at the house of the Justice of Peace, in front of which stood a large apple tree which shaded the stone well. Here stood Kaetheli who did not look sick at all, but splashed with two fat, red arms about the water in which she seemed to clean some object eagerly.

"Then you are not sick. Why didn't you come to school then?" Sally called out when she saw her.

"Oh, it is you? Good evening! I could not make out who was jumping about, and I hadn't the time to look," Kaetheli said with some importance. "That is also the reason why I did not go to school. I hadn't the time, for Mother has gone away today to see sick Grandmother, and then we got young chickens, twelve quite small ones, and that is why I have to wash a stocking, for I have run after the chicks everywhere and near the barn I stepped in the dirt quite deep. But come, I will show you the chickens. Never mind if I have only one stocking on."

But Sally had only very little time left and besides, her head was full of quite different things and she wanted to hear Kaetheli tell of something else than the new chickens, so she said quite decisively: "No, Kaetheli, I haven't time enough to see the chickens. I only wanted to know whether you were ill and I want to tell you something. I have seen the strange lady and the boy whom you know. He does look nice. Do you know his name?"

"He?" said Kaetheli, shrugging her shoulders. "Of course I know. His name is Erick and just think, he goes to school at Lower Wood; I have seen him myself today, with his school sack, going there."

That was a blow for Sally. He went to school at Lower Wood. What was now to come of her beautiful plans? Of all the planned Sundays which were to be so full of joy and delight, and the whole friendship with the prepossessing Erick? For how could Edi ever be brought to making friends with a fellow who went to Lower Wood to school, when he just as well might have gone to Upper Wood? Sally was very downcast, but she did not easily give up a pleasant intention. On the way home she wanted to think what could be done, therefore she stretched out her hand to the astonished Kaetheli, and this time the invitation, to at least come into the room and eat a piece of bread and butter, was not accepted; nor would she go with Kaetheli behind the barn where they could fetch down ripe cherries from the large cherry tree--it was all of no use.

"Another time, Kaetheli, it is already so late I must go home," and Sally ran away. Kaetheli stood there much surprised and looked after her, and in her bright mind she thought: "Sally has something new in her head, else I could have brought her to the cherry tree, for she is not always so anxious to go home; but I will find out what it is."

Meanwhile Sally ran for a long stretch, then she began to walk slower, for she had to think over so many things and she was so lost in her plans that she forgot when she arrived at the garden which stretched from her home far into the meadows. Ritz stood on the low wall and beckoned with wild gestures, for Sally had not seen him at first.

"Do come a little quicker so that you can tell something, else we will have to go to bed, for Auntie has already looked twice at her watch. Were you in the barn at Kaetheli's? How many cows are in it? Have you seen the young goat?"

But Sally had different things in her head. She hastily stepped into the house, while Ritz followed. The rest of the family were in the living-room. Mother and Auntie were mending stockings; Father was reading a large church paper. Edi, his head supported on both hands, sat lost in his history book. Sally had hardly opened the door when she cried out with much excitement: "Oh, Mother, you ought to have seen how friendly the lady was, and she is so beautiful and so gentle and so good, and quite an aristocratic lady; and Erick in his velvet suit is like a knight, and so fine and polite. Edi could not find a nicer friend."

They all looked surprised at Sally, and a pause followed this outburst. Sally had quite forgotten that she was not to go to the strange people, and that she had given, as the object of her walk, the call on Kaetheli. She now remembered everything and she grew very red.

"But, dear child," said the mother, "did you really, in spite of opposition from me, press into the home of the strange people? How could you enter the house without an excuse?"

"Not without an excuse, Mamma," said Sally, somewhat embarrassed. "'Lizebeth had given me a message for old Marianne."

"Which the inquisitive Sally fetched in the kitchen for the purpose of carrying out her plan, that is clear," remarked Auntie. When the whole truth lay open to the light of day, Sally felt relieved and she returned with new zeal to her communication. She had much to describe: the empty room and the silk dress of the lady, and her sad glances, and then the knightly Erick with his joyous laughter and the merry eyes; but she could not describe it all so attractively as it seemed to her.

"So," said Edi, looking up from his book, "now you have another friend. It will go, no doubt, with him as with little Leopold!" After giving her this fling he bent again over his book and read on, taking no notice of anything.

Sally did not find the desired sympathy. She was so full of her impressions that she felt Mother and Aunt should be all afire and aflame for her new friendship. Instead of that, the two kept on mending the stockings; Father did not even look up from his paper and Edi had only a satirical remark for sympathy. Sally had rather a bad reputation for making friendships. Almost every week she saw some one who appealed to her so much, that she must make a friendship at once; but the friendships were mostly of short duration, for she had imagined something else than she often found on looking closer. This made her quite unhappy at the time, but the next week she had already found some one else who filled her thoughts.

The last unfortunate friendship had brought forth Edi's satire to a greater degree. The tailor of Upper Wood had three sons, and since the father on his wanderings had spent some time in Vienna he gave his sons, in remembrance of the beautiful days which he spent there, the names of three Austrian grand dukes. It was this strange name that had first attracted Sally; to that was added that Leopold, the oldest of the sons, who had lived with his grandfather until now, but had come recently to Upper Wood, always wore elegant jackets and pants after the latest cut. Leopold had entered Sally's class and his appearance had at once inspired her. But he was so small and dainty that he received the name Leopoldy from the whole school. The rumor had preceded Leopold, that he had staid three years in the same class in the town where his grandfather lived. So Edi looked down on Leopoldy from an elevation of a fourth class boy and noticed with scorn how Sally found pleasure in the little fellow and befriended him. But that did not last long for, after a trial of a week, Leopoldy was set back two classes, since he had been put in the fifth class on account of his years, but not his deserts. In these eight days Sally had discovered, with sorrow, that Leopoldy was unusually silly, and Sally was glad that the enormous gap that lies between the fifth and third class, made easier the rupture of this friendship which could not continue, for nothing could be done with Leopoldy. So it happened that no one listened with sympathy to the enthusiastic description which Sally gave of her new friends, for each one remembered Leopoldy, and that was not inspiring.

This general coolness angered Sally very much. She knew her new friends if they would only believe her. All ought to be so interested in this mother and her Erick, that they would want to know everything possible about them, and now no one asked a question and they hardly listened to her communication. That was too much; Sally had to relieve her tension. She suddenly broke forth to Edi, who was entirely lost in his book: "Although you read a thousand books one after the other, and act as if one did not tell anything, and you think that one must have no friendship with any human being on this earth but only for the thousand-thousand-year-old Egyptians, yet you might be glad to have a friend like Erick."

Edi must have just read something that made him solemn, for he looked quite restrainedly up from his book and said quite seriously: "You see, Sally, you do not at all know what friendship is, for you believe that one can have a new friend every week. But one ought to have only one friend for the whole life, and one must drag his enemy three times around the walls of Troy."

"Then he will have to make a nice journey if he comes from Upper Wood," remarked Sally quickly.

The mother meanwhile had left the room, and Aunt rose from her work.

"You will get quite barbaric from pure historical research," she said, turning to Edi, "but now it is high time to go to bed, quick! But where is Ritz?"

Ritz had withdrawn behind the stove a full hour ago in the hope of there escaping his fate for some time. But sleep had overcome him in the dark corner.

"Now we have the trouble," the aunt cried, when the sleeper had been discovered, and only with the greatest difficulty she woke him.

While Auntie was pushing and shaking the sleepy Ritz, Edi had tried several times to get near her, but she had always escaped him. Now a quiet moment came. Ritz was at last awake. Edi quickly stepped up to his aunt and said: "I did not mean alive, only after his death, like Achilles did."

"Now he too is talking in his sleep and says all kinds of nonsense," the aunt cried quite excitedly, for she had long since forgotten Edi's judgment on the enemy and she did not know what he was talking about. "No, no, it cannot go on like this, children must go to bed in good time, else the whole household gets out of joint."

Edi wanted to explain once more, only to make it clear to her, and not to have to go to bed misunderstood, so he had followed her about, and now a greater misunderstanding had arisen. There was no more chance for explanation. Ritz and Edi were shoved into their room, the light put on the table, the door was closed, and away went Auntie.

"I am sure Mother will come to us. I must explain everything to her," Edi said to himself, for to be so misunderstood disquieted the thinking Edi exceedingly. And the mother came as she did every evening, and she promised to make everything clear to Auntie, so he could be pacified and find the sleep which Ritz long since had found again.