Chapter Second. A Hard Sentence
 

Toni was twelve years old in the winter, and now his school days were over, and the time had come to look about for some kind of work which would bring him in some money and by which he could learn something necessary for future years.

Spring had come and work had begun in the fields. His mother thought it would be best to ask the proprietor of the Matten farm, if he had some light work for Toni; but every time she spoke about it he would say beseechingly:

"Oh, Mother, don't do that; let me be a wood-carver!"

She would have had no objection to this, but knew no way to bring it about, and she had known the farmer up on the Matten farm ever since her husband had worked there, and ever since his death, from time to time he had sent her a little wood or meal.

She hoped that he would employ Toni at first for light tasks in the field, so that he would gradually learn to do the heavier work.

So on Saturday night after the day's work was ended and she sat down with Toni to their scanty supper, she said once more:

"Toni, now we must take a decided step; I think it is best for me to go up to the Matten farm to-morrow."

"Oh, Mother, don't do that!" said Toni quite beseechingly. "Don't go to the farmer! If you will only let me be a wood-carver, I will work so hard, that I will earn enough, and you will not have to do so much, and then I can stay at home with you. Besides you would be all alone, and I can't bear it, if I have to be always away from you. Let me stay with you; don't send me away, Mother."

"Oh, you good Toni," said his mother, "what wouldn't I give to be able to keep you always with me! But that really cannot be. I know of no way for you to be a wood-carver; some one would have to teach you, and when you had learned, how should we sell the carvings? You would have to know people and go about, or else your work wouldn't bring any money. If only I could talk with some one, who could give me good advice!"

"Don't you know any one, Mother, you can ask?" said Toni anxiously and racked his brain to try to think of some one. His mother too began to consider.

"I think I will go to the pastor, who has already given me advice," said his mother, delighted to have found a way out of the difficulty.

Toni was quite happy and now was determined that early the next morning they should go down to the church and then his mother could go in to see the pastor and Toni would wait outside.

Everything was carried out on Sunday morning as they had planned. His mother had put two of the little carved animals in her pocket to show the pastor as examples of her boy's good ability. The pastor received her very cordially, had her sit down beside him and enquired with interest about her affairs, for he knew Elsbeth and how bravely she had helped herself through all the hard times.

She told him now the whole story, how Toni from a very early age had worked at the carving with so much interest and now wished for nothing so much as to carry on this work, but how she knew of no way for him to learn, nor how, later, the work could be sold. Finally she showed him the two little animals as examples of Toni's skill.

The pastor replied to the mother that the plan would be very difficult to carry out. Although the two little goats were not badly carved, yet in order to perform the work right and to earn his bread by it, Toni would have first to learn from a good carver, because making only little animals or boxes would not amount to anything or bring in any money, and he would only be wasting his time.

However, down in the village of Frutigen there was a very skillful, well-known wood-carver, who made wonderful large works which went far into the world, even to America. He carved whole groups of animals on high rocks, chamois and eagles and whole mountains with the herdsman and the cows. Elsbeth could talk with this carver. If Toni studied with him he could help him to sell the finished work, for he had ways open for it.

Elsbeth left the pastor with gratitude and new hope in her heart. In front of the house Toni was waiting in great suspense. She had to tell him at once everything the pastor had said, and when she finally related about the wood-carver in Frutigen Toni suddenly stood still and said:

"Then come, Mother, let us go to the place at once."

However, his mother had not thought it over--she made many objections, but Toni begged so earnestly, that she finally said:

"We must go home first and have something to eat, for it is very far away; but we can do that quickly and then start off again right away."

So they hurried back to the house, took a little bread and milk and started on their way again. They had several hours to travel, but Toni was so busy with his plans and thoughts for the future, the time flew like a dream and he looked up in great surprise, when his mother said:

"See, there is the church tower of Frutigen!"

They were soon standing in front of the wood-carver's house, and learned from the children before the door, that their father was at home.

Inside in the large, wainscotted room, sat the wood-carver with his wife at the table, looking at a large book of beautiful colored pictures of animals which he would be able to make good use of in his handicraft. When the two arrived he welcomed them and invited them to come and be seated on the wooden bench, where he and his wife were sitting and which ran along the wall around the entire room. Elsbeth accepted the invitation and immediately began to tell the wood-carver why she had come and what she so much desired of him.

Meanwhile Toni stood as if rooted to the floor and stared motionless at a single spot. In front of him next the wall was a glass case, in which could be seen two high rocks, carved out of wood. On one was standing a chamois with her little ones. They had such dainty, slender legs, and their fine heads sat so naturally on their necks that it seemed as if they were all alive and not at all made of wood. On the other rock stood a hunter, his gun hanging by his side, and his hat, with even a feather in it, sat on his head, all so finely carved, that one would think it must be a real hat and a real little feather, and yet all was of wood.

Next the hunter stood his dog, and it seemed as if he would even wag his tail. Toni was like one enchanted and hardly breathed.

When his mother finished speaking, the wood-carver said it seemed to him as if she thought the affair would half go of itself, but it was not so.

If a thing was to be done right, it cost much time and patience to learn. He was not averse to taking the boy, for it seemed to him that he had a desire to learn; but she would have to pay for his board for a couple of months in Frutigen, besides paying for his instruction, which would be as much as his board, and she herself must know whether she could spend so much on the boy. On the other hand he would promise that the boy would be taught right, and she could see there in the glass case, what he could learn to do.

At first Elsbeth was so disappointed and dismayed she was unable to speak a word. Now she knew that it would be absolutely impossible for her to fulfill her boy's greatest wish. The necessary expense of board and instruction was beyond anything that she could manage, so much so that it was quite out of the question. It was all over with Toni's plans.

She rose and thanked the wood-carver for his willingness to take the boy, but she would have to decline his offer. Then she beckoned to Toni, whose eyes were still so fastened to the glass case that he paid no attention. She took him by the hand and led him quietly out of the door.

Outside Toni said, drawing a deep breath:

"Did you see what was in the case? Mother, did you see it?"

"Yes, yes, I saw it, Toni," replied his mother with a sigh, "but did you hear what the wood-carver said?"

Toni had heard nothing; all his mind had been directed to one point.

"No, I didn't hear anything; when can I go?" he asked longingly.

"Oh, it is not possible, Toni, but don't take it so to heart! See, I can't do it, although I would like to so much," declared his mother; "but everything would come to more than I earn in a year, and you know how hard I have to work to manage to make the two ends meet."

It was a hard blow for Toni. All his hopes for many years lay destroyed before him; but he knew how his mother worked, how little good she herself had, and how she always tried to give him a little pleasure when she could. He said not a word and silently swallowed his rising tears, hut he was very much grieved that all his hopes were over, since for the first time he had seen what wonderful things could be made out of a piece of wood.