Chapter V. Disturbance in School and Home

Never before had the schoolmaster of Upper Wood had such hard work with his schoolchildren as on the morning after this night. Of course there were times that some were more restless and more dense than usual; but there were usually a good many with whom he could work successfully. But today it seemed as though a crowd of excited spirits had taken possession of the children. All the boys cast uncanny, warlike glances at each other, even suppressed threatenings were thrust hither and thither, and when the teacher turned his back such threatening gestures were made to those who faced him, that they, one and all, rolled their eyes with wrath and gave the most ridiculous answers. They all were so eager for the battle, that they could no longer distinguish between friend and foe, and each shook his clenched fist at the other.

Sally and Kaetheli, those model scholars, kept putting their heads together and whispered continuously like the ripple of a brook. Yes, indeed, Kaetheli was so brim full of news that she even kept on whispering to Sally while the latter had to answer questions in arithmetic and of course got into the most inexplicable confusion. Even Edi, the very best scholar, forgot his studies and was staring sadly before him. For just now had come before his mind's eye, during the rest-period, the great bravery of his troops who, from want of a real enemy, had put each other in a sorry shape. And he was not allowed to lead these courageous soldiers against the boasting Churi, and to show this fellow how a great general does his work! The teacher was just standing before him and called on him, continuing in the geography lesson: "Edi, will you tell me the most important productions of Upper Italy?"

Italy! At the sound of that name, the whole war operation stood before Edi's eyes, for he had studied the minutest details of that region where the Romans had met their enemies, and Churi, as Hannibal, stood triumphant before him. Edi, heaving a deep sigh, answered nothing for the present.

"Edi," the master said when no answer came, "I cannot understand what sadness can be found in our topic, nor what can burden your mind, but one thing I can see, that today you all are like a herd of thoughtless sheep with whom nothing can be done. Kaetheli, you magpie, can you stop a moment and listen to what I am saying? You all are going home. I have had enough, and everyone--do you understand?--everyone takes home some home-work for punishment. As you go out, come to my desk, one after the other, and each will receive his special task."

So it was done, and at once the whole crowd rushed with joyous hearts into the open. For the home-work did not at all suppress the joy that school had closed a whole half-hour early. Outside on the playground, the groups who had common interests at once crowded together. The largest throng pressed around Edi, to listen with much shouting and noise to his battle plans.

At once after leaving the schoolroom Kaetheli took Sally by the hand and said: "I will go with you for a while, then I can finish telling you what Marianne told Mother this morning." With this Kaetheli continued her story, which she had begun in school, and told Sally everything that had happened last night in Marianne's cottage. Sally listened very quietly and never said a word. When they arrived at the garden, Kaetheli had just finished her sad tale; she stood still for a moment and was surprised that Sally did not say anything; then she said, "Good-bye!" and ran away.

At the noon meal Ritz related faithfully all that had happened in school: for now, since Sally and even Edi had received home-tasks, he found that to be more remarkable than sorrowful. Edi seemed somewhat dejected. When now the small, golden, roasted apples were placed on the table, Ritz stopped his report and applied himself thoroughly to the work of eating them. When he had cleared his plate, which was done very quickly, he looked slyly at the plates of his brother and sister, for he knew that the second supply of the things on the table came only after all three had finished their first. When he looked at Sally, his eyes stayed on her, and after he had watched her attentively for some time, he said: "Sally, you keep on swallowing as much as you can, but you see, nothing can go down, because you have put nothing into your mouth, and your plate stays filled."

Now Sally could not restrain her tears longer, for she had with great difficulty swallowed them, and had been very quiet. Now she burst out into loud sobbing and said through her tears: "Poor Erick, too, cannot eat today. Now he has neither father nor mother and is all alone in the world."

Sally's weeping grew louder and louder, for she could not stop, since she had restrained herself so long. Ritz looked, surprised and startled, from one to the other; he did not quite understand whether he was to blame for this. The mother rose, took Sally by the hand, and led her out of the room.

This incident caused a great disturbance at the midday meal. The father was annoyed and sat without saying a word. The aunt, with great animation, tried to point out to him with this proof, how excitable children become when they do not go to bed in good time. Edi, too, sat quite ill-humoredly before his plate, as if he had to swallow sorrel instead of little golden apples; for he felt much troubled that his father had heard of his inattention in the school. Ritz had expected a kind of admonishing speech from him, because the outburst had taken place right after he had spoken to Sally. Since it did not come and no one seemed to trouble about him, he settled himself firmly in his seat and ate everything that was on Sally's and his mother's plates.

When the father went out in the garden soon after, the mother followed him and led him to the small bench under the apple tree. Seated there she told him what Sally, continuously interrupted by loud sobbing, had told her: what had happened during the past night in Marianne's cottage. And she now asked her husband whether he did not think that some enquiries ought to be made about these strangers, and whether one ought not to do something for the little boy who, as it seemed, was standing all alone in the world. But the pastor was not of her opinion, and said that these people had turned to Lower Wood for school and church, therefore he could not interfere at present. His colleague in Lower Wood would no doubt take everything in hand and see what could be done with the boy. He was sure that the pastor in Lower Wood would find some relations of the boy, and he perhaps knew already more about the strangers, than was suspected. The woman, no doubt, had confided in his colleague about herself, since she would have had to do that as she had sent her boy to Lower Wood to school, and perhaps also to Sunday school. One could not possibly give in to Sally in all her manifold emotions and pay attention to them. The child had too vivid an imagination and was yet too young to have the gift of discrimination, and if one should give in to her fancies one soon would fill the house with Leopoldys and other creatures, who soon would be turned out of the house or, at least, be pushed aside by the same Sally, as soon as she saw that the good people were not as she had imagined them.

"I have to take Sally's part somewhat, dear husband," said the mother. "You are right, she feels very strongly, and she shows these feelings to everyone whom she meets; but I do not find that wrong, for, wherever she meets with a response, there she remains faithful to her feelings, and she loves her friends warmly and constantly. With what devotion has she adhered to Kaetheli from babyhood! And I much prefer that she go through life with her warm heart, and expect to find a friend in every human being, than that she should pass people indifferently, and have no conception of friendship, although she may meet with many a disappointment and many a condemnation through this trait."

"Both will be her share, in plenty," said the father. "In this direction we therefore will do our share in saving her from these things as much as she can be saved."

So the mother saw that the best that could be done was to pacify Sally and to explain to her that nothing could be done at present but something would be done later from another source.

When it became known that the strange woman had died, there was a great deal of talk, especially among the Middle Lotters, in whose midst the woman had lived, but had never been seen--a fact which had always caused suspicion. Since no one knew anything about her past life, then everyone had the more to say about who she might have been. At any rate, nothing very good, in that they all agreed, else she would have been friendly with them and would not have kept herself so apart. When now no relations appeared and she had to be buried without any mourners, then a number of stories began to circulate which became more and more mysterious. For the official of the community had said that, no doubt, she had been an exile, and the Justice of Peace had added that then she must have committed very great political crimes. 'Lizebeth was not loath to bring these stories to the pastor and his wife, for she had never been able to overcome the thought of the velvet pants. The pastor's wife shook her head incredulously and forbade 'Lizebeth to carry the stories further. The pastor said: "There must have been something crooked, but the woman is now buried, and we will say nothing more about it."

Marianne alone stood opposed to all and told them to their faces that it was an injustice and wickedness to talk as they did; none of them had known the woman, else they would know that there was nothing bad about her, but that she had been an angel of goodness, gentleness and kindly deeds. And although the lady had appeared as aristocratic as a princess, she had been more friendly with humble folk, such as Marianne, than many a Middle Lotter who ran about in torn stockings. But if Marianne was asked if she had known the woman well, who she was, and why not a single relative enquired after her, although the notice of her death was put into all the papers; then she too could give no explanation, since she did not know anything.

A few wicked people then said: "No doubt Marianne will have had her profit from it." But she had not, and never had looked for it. The woman had paid the low rent in advance for the month, which had just ended; it had been the month of August. When now, immediately after the funeral of the poor woman, the officials came and looked to see what the inheritance of the little boy would be, then it was found that there was nothing but the piano and the black silk skirt. The officials decided to give the latter to Marianne, since she had rendered her the last services and put her in her last bed.

The dress had once been very beautiful, for the material was heavy and costly, but it was much worn, and yet Marianne thought: "It is too handsome for me. I will not wear it but it is a dear remembrance," for she had only seen the dear woman in that one dress. While they were still talking over what should be done with the piano, the landlord of the Krone in Lower Wood drove up with an empty wagon and took the piano, the beds, the table and the two easy chairs, for everything had been hired from him; but he had been paid in advance up to this time.

So nothing was left for the little boy but the velvet suit that he wore. Now they began to talk about what was to be done with the boy, and some propositions were made as to how he could be cared for. At this point Marianne stepped forth and said that she would keep the little boy until she was leaving. In three weeks she was going to move down to Oakwood to her cousin's, for her house was as good as sold. The officials were greatly pleased with this offer; many things could turn up in three weeks, and for the time being the little waif was cared for. So they parted from one another satisfied with their work.