Toni, the Little Woodcarver by Johanna Spyri
Chapter Third. Up in the Mountains
The next morning, the farmer on the Matten farm sent word to Elsbeth, to come up to see him towards evening, as he had something to talk with her about. At the right time she laid aside her hoe, tied on a clean apron, and said:
"Finish the hoeing, Toni; then you can milk the goat and give her some fresh straw, so she will have a better bed. Then I will be back again."
She went up to the Matten farm. The farmer was standing in the open barn-door gazing with satisfaction at his beautiful cows, wandering in a long procession to the well. Elsbeth stepped up to him.
"Well, I am glad you have come," he said, holding out his hand to her. "I have been thinking about you on account of the boy's welfare. He is now at an age to do some light work and help you a little, at least to take care of himself."
"I have already been thinking about that," replied Elsbeth, "and wanted to ask you, if you could give him a little light work in the fields?"
"That is fortunate," continued the farmer. "I have a little job for him, healthy and not very hard, that is to say not hard at all. He can go up to the small mountain with the cows. The herdsman with his boys is on the big mountain and a man is also there to come every morning and evening for the milking, so the boy will not be entirely alone and will have nothing to do but watch the cows so that none wander off, that they don't hook each other or do anything out of the way. While he sits there on the mountain he is master and can have all the milk he wants. A king couldn't have anything better."
Elsbeth was a little frightened by the offer. If Toni had been more with the farm men, and had been with cows, or if he had naturally a different disposition, wilder and more roving and commanding-but as he was so quiet and shy, and besides without any knowledge of such things, to be for the first time all alone for several months, away from home, up on the mountains, watching a herd of cows, this seemed to her too hard for Toni. What would the poor boy, who was not particularly strong, do if anything happened to him or to the herd? She expressed all her thoughts to the farmer, but it made no difference; he thought it would be good for the boy to get out for once, and up on the mountain he would be much stronger than at home, and nothing could happen to him, for he would be given a horn and if anything went wrong he could blow lustily, and immediately the farm man would come from the other mountain; in a half hour he would be there.
Elsbeth finally thought the farmer understood it much better than she, and so it was decided that the next week, when the cows went up to the mountain pasture, Toni should go with them.
"He shall have a good bit of money and a new suit of clothes when he comes down. That will be a help for the winter," said the farmer finally.
Elsbeth thanked him as she said good-by, and turned homeward.
Toni was at first opposed to this, when he heard that he would be away so long without being able to come home a single time; but his mother explained to him how easy the work would be, that he would grow stronger up there, so as to be able to do better things later on, and that the Matten farmer would give him a new suit and a good bit of money as pay. So Toni objected no longer, but said he would be glad to do something and not let his mother work alone.
Then it occurred to Elsbeth that, if Toni was going to be away the whole summer she could perhaps go to one of the big hotels in Interlaken where so many strangers go for the summer. There she could earn a good sum of money and meet the coming winter without anxiety. She was already known in Interlaken for she had served as chambermaid in one of the hotels for several summers before her marriage.
When the day came for the big herd of cows to be taken up to the mountain pasture, Toni's mother gave him his little bundle and said:
"Go now, in God's name! Don't forget to pray, when the day begins, and when it ends, and the dear Lord will not forget you, and His protection is better than that of men."
So Toni started off with his little bundle behind the herd up the mountain.
Immediately after this Elsbeth closed her cottage. She took the goat up to the Matten farm. When the farmer heard that she was going to Interlaken, he promised her to take the goat, and thought when Elsbeth came home again, she would give twice as much milk, and what he made from her, he would give back to Elsbeth in cheese. Then she started down to Interlaken.
The herd had already been climbing the mountain for several hours. The herdsman turned off to the left with the big herd, and the man went with Toni up towards the right, followed by the smaller herd, which consisted of fewer cows but many young cattle, for not many cows could be kept on the small mountain pasture, because the milk had to be carried across to the big one where the herdsman's hut stood.
They now reached the highest point of the pasture. There stood a little hut. All around there was nothing but pasture, not a tree, not a bush. In the hut on one side was a narrow seat fastened to the wall in front of which stood a table. On the other side stood a bed of hay. In the corner was a little, round stool and on this a wooden jug.
Toni and the man stepped inside. The latter placed on the floor the big wooden milk-pail, which he had brought up on his back, took out of it a round loaf of bread and a huge piece of cheese, laid both on the table and said: "Of course you have a knife," to which Tony assented.
Then the man took the wooden jug, swung the milk-pail on his back and went out. Toni followed him. The man lifted a wooden basin out of the big pail, seated himself on the little round stool which he had brought out of the hut and began to milk one cow after another. If one was too far away, he would call out: "Drive her here!" and Toni obeyed. When the basin was full he poured it into the big pail and silently went on until all the cows had been milked. At the last the man filled the jug with milk, handed it to Toni, took the pail on his back, the basin in his hand and saying "Good night!" went down the mountain.
Then Toni was all alone. He put his jug of milk in the hut and came out again. He looked around on every side. He looked over to the big mountain, but between that and his pasture was a wide valley so one had to descend in order to climb up to the big one. But all around both pastures great dark masses of mountains looked down, some rocky, gray and jagged, others covered with snow, all reaching up to the sky, so high and mighty and with such different peaks and horns and some with such broad backs, that it almost seemed to Toni as if they were enormous giants, each one having his own face and looking down at him. It was a clear evening. The mountain opposite was shining in the golden evening light, and now a little star came into sight above the dark mountains, and looked down to Toni in such a friendly way that it cheered him very much.
He thought of his mother, where she was now and how she was in the habit of standing with him at this time in front of the little cottage and talking so pleasantly. Then suddenly there came over him such a feeling of loneliness that he ran into the hut, threw himself down on the cot, buried his face in the hay and sobbed softly, until the weariness of the day overcame him and he fell asleep.
The bright morning lured him out early. The man was already outside. He milked the cows, spoke not a word and went away.
Now a long, long day followed. It was perfectly still all around. The cows grazed and lay down around in the sun-bathed pasture. Tom went into the hut two or three times, drank some milk and ate some bread and cheese. Then he came out again, sat down on the ground and carved on a piece of wood he had in his pocket, for although he no longer dared to cherish the hope of becoming a wood-carver, yet he could not help carving for himself as well as he could. At last it was evening again. The man came and went. He said not a word, and Toni had nothing to say either.
Thus passed one day after another. They were all so long! so long! In the evening, when it began to grow dark it always seemed terrible to Toni, for then the high mountains looked so black and threatening, as if they would suddenly do him some harm. Then he would rush back into the hut and crawl into his bed of hay.
Many days had passed like this, one exactly the same as the other. The sun had always shone in a cloudless sky; always at evening the friendly little star had gleamed above the dark mountain. But one afternoon, thick, gray clouds began to chase one another across the sky; now and then blinding lightning flashed, and suddenly frightful thunder-bolts sounded, which echoed roaring from the mountains, as if there were twice as many and then a terrible storm broke. It was as dark as night; the rain beat against the hut, and meanwhile the thunder rolled with fearful reverberations through the mountains; quivering lightning lighted up the black, frightful giant-forms, which seemed quite specter-like to come nearer and look down menacingly. The cattle ran together in alarm and bellowed loudly, and great birds of prey flapped around with piercing shrieks.
Toni had long since fled into the hut, but the lightning showed him the frightful forms and it seemed every minute as if the rolling thunder would overthrow the hut to the ground. Toni was so alarmed he could hardly breathe. He climbed up on the table expecting every minute that the hut would fall and crush him. The storm lasted for hours, and the man never came over. It was now really night but still the blinding lightning flashed and new peals of thunder rolled and the storm howled and raged as if it would sweep the hut away.
Toni stood half the night stiff with fright, clinging to the table, and with no thought, only a feeling of a frightful power, which was crushing everything. How he reached his bed he did not know, but in the morning he lay stretched across the hay, so exhausted he could hardly rise. He looked anxiously out of the window. How must it look outside after such a night? Then he went out to see about the cows. The ground was still wet, but the animals were peacefully grazing.
The sky was gray, and thick, black clouds were passing over it. Gloomy and frightful the high mountains stood there. They had come so near and looked more threateningly than ever at Toni. He ran back into the hut.
Many days of thunder storms followed, one after another and if the sun came out between, it burned unbearably, and new storms followed so unceasingly and violent, that the herdsman, on the other mountain often said that he had not known such a summer for years, and if it didn't change he wouldn't make half so much butter as in former summers, because the cows gave no milk, as they didn't like the fodder.
During this time the man-servant chose the most favorable time to come over to the small pasture, milked the cows as quickly as possible and did not look after the boy at all; only now and then, when he thought Toni had no more milk, he would bring the jug out quickly, fill it and put it back again. Then he often saw Toni sitting on his bed of hay, and would call out in passing:
"You are lazy!"
But then he ran right away in order to get back without being wet, and did not trouble himself further about the boy.
So June had passed, and already a good part of July. The thunder storms had become less frequent, but thick fog often so enveloped the mountain that one could hardly see two steps away, and only here and there a black head appeared, looking gloomily through the mist. The cattle often wandered so far that the man found some of them between the two mountains and brought them up again. This would not do. He called up to the boy, but received no answer. He ran to the hut and went in. Toni crouched in the corner was sitting on his bed and staring straight before him.
"Why don't you look after the cows?" asked the man.
He received no answer.
"Can't you speak? What is the matter with you?"
Then the man looked at the bread and cheese, to see if Toni had eaten everything and was suffering from hunger. But more than half the bread was there and the larger part of the cheese. Toni had taken almost nothing but milk.
"What is the matter with you, then? Are you sick?" asked the man again.
Toni gave no answer. He seemed not to hear anything and stared so motionless before him that the man was quite alarmed. He ran out of the hut. He told the herdsman how it was with the boy and they decided that when one of the herdsman's boys went down with the butter, he must tell the Matten farmer about it.
Another week passed. Then the news was brought to the farmer. He thought the boy would be happy again, that the heavy thunderstorms had only frightened him a little. But he sent word for the herdsman to go over; he had boys of his own and would understand better about this than the hired man. If anything was wrong with Toni he must be brought down.
Some days later the herdsman really went over with one of his boys and found Toni still crouched in the corner just as the man had seen him. Toni made no sound to anything the herdsman said to him, did not move and kept staring always before him.
"He must go down," said the herdsman to his boy, "go with him right away, but take care that nothing happens to him and be good to him; the boy is to be pitied," and he looked at Toni with sympathy, for the herdsman had a good heart and took delight in his own three big, healthy boys. The one he had with him was a strong, sturdy fellow of sixteen years. He went up to Toni and told him to stand up, but Toni did not move. Then the lad took him under the arms, lifted him up, like a feather, then swung him on his back, held him firmly with both hands, and went with his light burden down the mountain.
When the Matten farmer saw Toni in such a sad condition, which remained just the same, he was alarmed, for he had not expected such a thing. He did not know at all what to do with the boy. His mother was far away, no relatives were there, and he himself did not want to keep Toni while in this condition. He could take such a responsibility, but he did not want to do so. Suddenly a good thought came to him, the same as the people there in every difficulty, in every need and every trouble, always have first of all:
"Take him to the Pastor," he said to the herdsman's boy, "he will have some good advice to give, which will help."
The lad immediately started off and went to the Pastor, who allowed the boy to tell him as much as he knew about the details of the case, how Toni came to be in this condition and how long it had lasted; but the lad knew very little about it all. The Pastor first tried every means to make Toni speak, and asked him if he would like to go to his mother, but it was all in vain, Toni did not give the least sign of understanding or interest.
Then the pastor sat down, wrote a letter and said to the herdsman's boy:
"Go back to the Matten farm and tell the farmer to harness his little carriage and send it to me, and then I will see that Toni goes to-day to Bern. He is very sick; say that to the farmer."
The farmer harnessed immediately, glad that further responsibility was taken from him and he had only to carry Toni as far as the railway. But the Pastor sent down to his sexton, an older, kindly man, who had given him a helping hand for years in many matters of responsibility. He was commissioned to take Toni with all care to the great sanitarium in Bern and to give the letter to the doctor there, a good friend of the Pastor's. A half hour later, the open carriage with the high seat drove up in front of the Pastor's house. The sexton climbed up, placed the sick boy beside him, held him carefully but firmly and thus Toni drove out into the world, with a horse, for the first time in his life. But he sat there with no sign of interest. It was as if he were no longer conscious of the outer world.