Chapter First. At Home in the Little Stone Hut
 

High up in the Bernese Oberland, quite a distance above the meadow-encircled hamlet of Kandergrund, stands a little lonely hut, under the shadow of an old fir-tree. Not far away rushes down from the wooded heights of rock the Wild brook, which in times of heavy rains, has carried away so many rocks and bowlders that when the storms are ended a ragged mass of stones is left, through which flows a swift, clear stream of water. Therefore the little dwelling near by this brook is called the stone hut.

Here lived the honest day-laborer Toni, who conducted himself well in every farm-house, where he went to work, for he was quiet and industrious, punctual at his tasks, and reliable in every way.

In his hut at home he had a young wife and a little boy, who was a joy to both of them. Near the hut in the little shed was the goat, the milk of which supplied food for the mother and child, while the father received his board through the week on the farms where he worked from morning until night. Only on Sunday was he at home with his wife and little Toni. The wife Elsbeth, kept her little house in good order; it was narrow and tiny, but it always looked so clean and cheerful that every one liked to come into the sunny room, and the father, Toni, was never so happy as when he was at home in the stone hut with his little boy on his knee.

For five years the family lived in harmony and undisturbed peace. Although they had no abundance and little worldly goods, they were happy and content. The husband earned enough, so they did not suffer want, and they desired nothing beyond their simple manner of life, for they loved each other and their greatest delight was little Toni.

The little boy grew strong and healthy and with his merry ways delighted his father's heart, when he remained at home on Sundays, and sweetened all his mother's work on week-days, when his father was away until late in the evening.

Little Toni was now four years old and already knew how to be helpful in all sorts of small ways, in the house and the goat's shed and also in the field behind the hut. From morning until night he tripped happily behind his mother for he was as content as the little birds up in the old fir-tree.

When Saturday night came the mother scrubbed and cleaned with doubled energy, to finish early, for on that day the father was through his work earlier than other days, and she always went with little Toni by the hand, part way to meet him. This was a great delight to the child. He now knew very well how one task followed another in the household. When his mother began to scrub, he jumped around in the room, with delight and cried out again and again: "Now we are going for Father! Now we are going for Father!" until the moment came when his mother took him by the hand and started along.

Saturday evening had come again in the lovely month of May. Outdoors the birds in the trees were singing merrily up to the blue sky; indoors the mother was cleaning busily, in order to get out early into the golden evening, and meanwhile now outside, now in the house, little Toni was hopping around and shouting:

"Now we are going for Father!"

It was not long before the work was finished. The mother put on her shawl, tied on her best apron and stepped out of the house.

Toni jumped for joy and ran three times around his mother, then seized her hand and shouted once more:

"Now we are going for Father!"

Then he tripped along beside his mother in the lovely, sunny evening. They wandered to the Wild brook, over the wooden bridge, which crosses it, and came to the narrow foot-path, winding up through the flower-laden meadows to the farm where the father worked.

The last rays of the setting sun fell across the meadows and the sound of the evening bells came up from Kandergrund.

The mother stood still and folded her hands.

"Lay your hands together Toneli," she said, "it is the Angelus."

The child obeyed.

"What must I pray, Mother?" he asked.

"Give us and all tired people a blessed Sunday! Amen!" said the mother devoutly.

Toneli repeated the prayer. Suddenly he screamed: "Father is coming!"

Down from the farm some one was running as fast as he could come.

"That is not Father," said his mother, and both went towards the running man. When they met, the man stood still and said, gasping:

"Don't go any farther, turn around, Elsbeth. I came straight to you, for something has happened."

"Oh, my God!" cried the woman in the greatest anguish, "has something happened to Toni?"

"Yes, he was with the wood-cutters, and then he was struck. They have brought him back; he is lying up at the farm-but don't go up there," he added, holding Elsbeth fast, for she wanted to start off as soon as she heard the news.

"Not go up?" she said quickly. "I must go to him; I must help him and see about bringing him home."

"You cannot help him, he is--he is already dead," said the messenger in an unsteady voice. Then he turned and ran back again, glad to have the message off his mind.

Elsbeth threw herself down on a stone by the way, unable to stand or to walk. She held her apron before her face and burst into weeping and sobbing, so that Toneli was distressed and frightened. He pressed close to his mother and began to cry too.

It was already dark, when Elsbeth finally came to herself and could think of her child. The little one was still sitting beside her on the ground, with both hands pressed to his eyes, and sobbing pitifully. His mother lifted him up.

"Come, Toneli, we must go home; it is late," she said, taking him by the hand.

But he resisted.

"No, no, we must wait for Father!" he said and pulled his mother back.

Again she could not keep back the tears. "Oh, Toneli, Father will come no more," she said, stifling her sobs; "he is already enjoying the blessed Sunday, we prayed for, for the weary. See, the dear Lord has taken him to Heaven; it is so beautiful there, he will prefer to stay there."

"Then we will go too," replied Toneli, starting

"Yes, yes, we shall go there too," promised his mother, "but now we must first go home to the stone hut," and without a word she went with the little one back to the silent cottage.

The proprietor of the Matten farm sent word to Elsbeth the following day that he would do everything necessary for her husband, and so she need not come until it was time for the service, for she would not recognize her husband. He sent her some money in order that she would not have too much care in the next few days, and promised to think of her later on.

Elsbeth did as he advised and remained at home until the bells in Kandergrund rang for the service. Then she went to accompany her husband to his resting place.

Sad and hard days came for Elsbeth. She missed her good, kind husband everywhere, and felt quite lost without him. Besides, cares came now which she had known little about before, for her husband had had his good, daily work. But now she felt sometimes as if she would almost despair. She had nothing but her goat and the little potato field behind the cottage, and from these she had to feed and clothe herself and the little one, and besides furnish rent for the little house.

Elsbeth had only one consolation, but one that always supported her when pain and care oppressed her; she could pray, and although often in the midst of tears, still always with the firm belief that the dear Lord would hear her supplication.

When at night she had put little Toni in his tiny bed she would kneel down beside him and repeat aloud the old hymn, which now came from the depths of her heart, as never before:

  Oh, God of Love, oh Father-heart,
    In whom my trust is founded,
  I know full well how good Thou art--
    E'en when by grief I am wounded.

  Oh Lord, it surely can not be
    That Thou wilt let me languish
  In hopeless depths of misery,
    And live in tears of anguish.

  Oh Lord, my soul yearns for thine aid
    In this dark vale of weeping;
  For thee I've waited, hoped and prayed
    Assured of thy safe keeping.

  Lord let me bear whate'er thy Love
    May send of grief or sorrow,
  Until Thou, in thy Heaven above
    Make dawn a brighter morrow.

And in the midst of her urgent praying, the mother's tears flowed abundantly, and little Toni, deeply moved in his heart by his mother's weeping and earnest prayer, kept his hands folded and wept softly too.

So the time passed. Elsbeth struggled along and little Toni was able to help her in many ways, for he was now seven years old. He was his mother's only joy, and she was able to take delight in him for he was obedient and willing to do everything she desired. He had always been so inseparable from his mother that he knew exactly how the tasks of the day had to be done, and he desired nothing but to help her whenever he could. If she was working in the little field, he squatted beside her, pulled out the weeds, and threw the stones across the path.

If his mother was taking the goat out of the shed so that she could nibble the grass around the hut, he went with her step by step, for his mother had told him he must watch her so that she would not run away.

If his mother was sitting in winter by her spinning-wheel, he sat the whole time beside her, mending his winter shoes with strong strips of cloth, as she had taught him to do. He had no greater wish than to see his mother happy and contented. His greatest pleasure was, when Sunday came and she was resting from all work, to sit with her on the little wooden bench in front of the house and listen as she told him about his father and talk with her about all kinds of things.

But now the time had come for Toni to go to school. It was very hard for him to leave his mother and remain away from her so much. The long way down to Kandergrund and up again took so much time, that Toni was hardly ever with his mother any more through the day, but only in the evening. Indeed he always came home so quickly that she could hardly believe it possible, for he looked forward with pleasure all day long to getting home again. He lost no time with his school-mates but ran immediately away from them as soon as school was over. He was not accustomed to the ways of the other boys since he had been constantly alone with his quietly working mother and used to performing definite tasks continually without any noise.

So it was altogether strange to him and he took no pleasure in it, when the boys coming out of the school-house, set up a great screaming, one running after another, trying to see which was the stronger, and throwing one another on the ground, or wrestling so that their caps were thrown far away and their jackets half torn off.

The wrestlers would often call to him:

"Come and play!" and when he ran away from them they would call after him: "You are a coward." But this made little difference to him; he didn't hear it long, for he ran with all his might in order to be at home again with his mother.

Now a new interest for him arose in the school: he had seen beautiful animals drawn on white sheets, which the children of the upper classes copied. He quickly tried to draw them, too, with his pencil and at home continued drawing the animals again and again as long as he had a bit of paper. Then he cut out the animals and tried to make them stand on the table, but this he could not do. Then suddenly the thought came to him that if they were of wood they could stand. He began quickly with his knife to cut around on a little piece of wood until there was a body and four legs; but the wood was not large enough for the neck and the head; so he had to take another piece and calculate from the beginning how high it must be and where the head must be placed. So Toni cut away with much perseverance until he succeeded in making something like a goat and could show it with great satisfaction to his mother. She was much delighted at his skill and said:

"You are surely going to be a wood-carver, and a very good one."

From that time on Toni looked at every little piece of wood which came in his way, to see if it would be good for carving, and if so he would quickly put it away, so that he often brought home all his pockets full of these pieces, which he then collected like treasures into a pile and spent every free moment carving them.

Thus the years passed by. Although Elsbeth always had many cares, she experienced only joy in her Toni. He still clung to her with the same love, helped her in every way as well as he could and spent his life beside her, entirely at his quiet occupation, in which he gradually acquired a quite gratifying skill. Toni was never so content as when he was sitting in the little stone hut with his carving and his mother came in and out happily employed, always saying a kindly word to him and finally sat down beside him at her spinning-wheel.