Chapter IV. The Same Night in Two Houses
 

When on this evening Edi and Ritz were lying in their bed and Mother had finished saying evening prayer with them and had closed the door after her, Edi began: "Have you noticed, Ritz, that Father is almost like God? He already knows the thing before one has told half of it."

"No, I have never noticed that," Ritz replied. "But it is all right, for then he can do everything he wants to and also make fine weather."

"Oh, Ritz, you only look at the profit! but just look at the other side." Here Edi rose up in bed from pure zeal and continued: "Do you remember, not long ago I recited our songs, which we made about the others, to Papa; then he knew at once that we were preparing a big fight and has forbidden us to take part in it. And this evening they all have talked it over that I should lead the boys of Upper Wood into battle, and I have thought it all over and prepared ahead. Then I would be Fabius Cunctator, and would lead my troops above on the hill round and round it and would not attack, for you must know that is much safer, and so Hannibal could do nothing and could not attack me."

"Is Hannibal still living then?" asked Ritz serenely.

"Oh, Ritz, how indescribably ignorant you are!" Edi remarked compassionately. "He died more than a thousand years ago. But big Churi, the leader of the Middle Lotters, our enemies, is Hannibal. But you see, I just remember something: Churi is not a real Hannibal, for he was a great and noble general, and Churi cannot represent him; but do you know what, we can take the strange boy Erick, for Hannibal!--he looks quite different from Churi,--shall we?"

"That is all the same to me since we cannot be in the fight," remarked Ritz.

"That is true, we dare not, I had quite forgotten that," lamented Edi. "If I only knew what we could do to be in this fight and yet not do anything that is forbidden."

"Don't you know an example in the world's history?" asked Ritz, to whom his brother presented so often, in cases of need, examples out of this rich fountain.

"No. If we only lived like the old Greeks," Edi answered with a deep sigh. "When they wanted to know anything of which no one knew the answer, they quickly drove to Delphi to the oracle and asked advice. Then there was an answer at once and they knew what was to be done. But now there are no more oracles, not even in Greece. Isn't that too bad?"

"Yes, that is too bad," said Ritz rather sleepily, "but I am sure you will think of another example."

Edi began at once to think, but however much he thought, and groped in his memory and upheaved what he had stored away in his brain, he could not find in the whole history of the world one single case where some one had carried out something that the father had forbidden, and yet stood afterwards with honor before him. For that was what Edi was trying to find; and he was sitting straight up in his bed in the dark, and in spite of all his endeavors he could find no way out. And when he now heard the deep breathing of the sweetly sleeping Ritz, he became too discouraged to try any more. He lay down on his pillow and was soon dreaming about the uniform of Fabius Cunctator.

Soon after this Marianne too lay down on her couch, but for a long time sleep would not come. The singing of the lady downstairs had made her very, very sad; this voice had never before touched her so deeply as it had done this evening, and she still heard the sound of weeping and rejoicing in confusion. So Marianne heard the old clock on the wall strike eleven, then twelve, and yet she could not go to sleep. Now it seemed to her as if she heard a gentle knocking below in the house. Who could want anything of her so late in the night? She must be mistaken, she said to herself. But no, she now heard it quite plainly, somebody was knocking somewhere. She quickly dressed herself and hastened down to the kitchen. She opened the front door--no one was there. But the knocking came again and now Marianne thought that it came from the sleeping room of her boarders. Softly she opened the door of the room. Within the pale lady sat on her bed, but she was much paler than usual, so that Marianne stepped quickly into the room, and much frightened, she exclaimed: "Dear me! What is the matter? Oh how bad you do look!"

"Yes, I feel very ill, my good Marianne," the lady answered with her friendly voice. "I am so sorry that I frightened you so in the middle of the night; but I had no rest, I was obliged to call you. I have a few things to tell you and it might have been too late."

"Dear, dear! what do you mean?" lamented Marianne. "I will get the doctor at once from Lower Wood,--he is the nearest."

"No, Marianne, I thank you, I know my condition," said the sick woman soothingly, "it is a cramp in my heart, which often comes and this time more terribly than usual, and so, my good Marianne, I wanted to tell you that if I am no longer here tomorrow, will you give this," (and she gave a small paper to Marianne), "to him who has to prepare for my last resting-place. It is the only thing that I leave, and which I have saved for a long time, so that I need not be buried in a pauper's grave. That must not be, for my father's sake," she added, very softly.

"Dear, dear Lord!" Marianne lamented, "grant that it may not be that! Do think of the dear little boy! Dear Mrs. Dorn, do not take it amiss, I have never before asked anything at all, but if you leave nothing, what have I to do with the dear boy? Has he no relatives? Has he no father?"

The mother looked at the sleeping Erick, who, with his golden curls encircling his rosy face, lay there so peacefully and so carefree. She put her hand on his forehead--for his narrow bed stood quite close to hers--and said softly: "On earth you have no father any more, my child, but above in heaven there lives a Father who will not forsake you. I have given you long since to Him. I know He will care for you and protect you, so I can go quietly and joyfully. Yes, my good Marianne," she turned again to the latter, "I have done a great wrong; I have hurt deeply the best of fathers through disobedience and selfishness. For that I have suffered much; but in my suffering it was permitted me to learn how great the love and compassion of our Father in heaven is for His children, and since then a song of deepest gratitude sounds ever and ever in my heart:

    "'I lay in heaviest fetters,
     Thou com'st and set'st me free;
     I stood in shame and sorrow,
     Thou callest me to Thee;
     And lift'st me up to honor
     And giv'st me heavenly joys
     Which cannot be diminished
     By earthly scorn and noise.'"

The sick woman had folded her hands while she spoke, and in her eyes there was a wonderful light; but now she sank back on her pillows, exhausted and pale. Marianne stood there quietly and now and then had to wipe her eyes.

"But now I must run to the doctor,--it is high time," she said, frightened. "Mrs. Dorn, can I give you anything?"

"No, I thank you," the sick woman answered softly. "I thank you for everything, my good Marianne."

The latter now hastily left the house and ran as fast as she could through the silent night toward Lower Wood. From time to time she had to stop to get her breath. Then she looked up to the bright star-covered sky and prayed: "Dear God, help us all." She had great difficulty in awakening the doctor in Lower Wood at two o'clock in the night; but at last he heard her knocking and followed her soon after on the road to her house. When they entered together the room of the sick woman, the light had burned down and threw a faint light on the quiet, pale face. The mother had stretched out her arm upon the bed of her child. The boy had encircled her slender, white hand with both his plump hands, and held it firmly. The doctor approached and looked closer at the sleeper; he bent over her for some moments.

"Marianne," he said, "loosen the hand out of the little boy's. The woman is sleeping her eternal sleep, she will nevermore awaken on this earth. She must have died suddenly from heart failure, while you were away to fetch me."

The doctor left the quiet house at once, and Marianne did as he had told her. She folded the hands of the departed one on her breast, then she sat down on Erick's bed, looking now at the serious face of the dead mother, now at the care-free sleeping boy, and wept quietly, until the rays of the morning sun fell into the quiet room and roused Marianne to the consciousness that a new, sad day had begun--a day on which Erick had to be told that he never again on this earth could take hold of the loving hand of his mother.