Toni, the Little Woodcarver by Johanna Spyri
Chapter Fourth. In the Sanitarium
The doctor of the sanitarium was sitting with his family around the family table, engaged in merry conversation on various subjects. Even the lady from Geneva, who spent several hours a day with the family, seemed to-day a little infected by the children's gayety. She had never before taken so lively a part in the discussion, which the school-children carried on about different interests.
This lady's beloved and gifted son had died not long before; on this account she had fallen into such deep sadness that her health had suffered greatly and therefore she had been brought to the sanitarium to recover.
The animated conversation was suddenly interrupted by a letter which was handed to the doctor.
"A letter from an old friend, who is sending me a patient to the sanitarium. He is a young boy, hardly as old as our Max--there, read it." Whereupon the doctor handed the letter to his wife.
"Oh, the poor boy!" exclaimed his wife. "Is he here? Bring him in. Perhaps it will do him good to see the children."
"I think he is quite near," said the doctor; he went out, and soon came in again with the sexton and Toni. He led the former into a bay window and began talking with him in a low tone. Meanwhile the doctor's wife drew near to Toni, who on entering had pressed into the nearest corner. She spoke kindly to him and invited him to come to the table and eat something with her children. Toni did not move. Then lively little Marie jumped down from her chair and came to Toni with a large piece of bread and butter.
"There, take a bite," she said encouragingly.
Toni remained motionless.
"See, you must do so," and the little girl bit a good piece from the bread and held it to him, then again a little nearer, so he only needed to bite into it. But he stared in front of him and made no motion. This silent resistance frightened Marie and she drew back quietly.
Then the doctor came, took Toni by the hand and went out followed by the sexton.
Poor Toni's appearance had made a great impression on the children. They had become perfectly quiet.
Later when they had gone to bed and the two women were sitting alone together, the doctor came back again. In reply to their urgent questions he informed them about all that the sexton had told him concerning Toni's illness and his life with his mother, and that no one had ever noticed anything wrong with the boy before, only he had always been a quiet, gentle child and more slenderly built than any of the other village children.
The women asked how he had come into this condition in the summer up on the beautiful mountain, and the doctor explained that it was not so strange, if one knew how terrible the thunder storms were up in the mountains. "Besides," he concluded, "a delicate child, such as this boy, all alone without a human being near, for whole weeks, even months long, without hearing a word spoken, might well be so terrified through fear and horror in the awful loneliness that he would become wholly benumbed."
Then the lady from Geneva, who took an unusual interest in poor Toni's fate, exclaimed in great excitement:
"How can a mother allow such a thing to happen to her child! It is wholly inconceivable, quite incomprehensible!"
"You really can have no idea," replied the doctor soothingly, "what poor mothers are obliged to let happen to their children. But don't believe that it causes them less pain than others. You see how many suffer that we know nothing about, and how hard poverty oppresses."
"Will you be able to help the poor young boy?" asked the lady from Geneva.
"If I can only bring out the right emotion in him," he replied, "so that the spell, which holds him imprisoned, can be broken. Now everything in him is numbed and lifeless."
"Oh, do help him! Do help him!" begged the sick lady imploringly. "Oh, if I could do something for him!" And she walked to and fro thinking about a way to help, for Toni's condition went deeply to her heart.
It was the second week of August, when Toni came to the sanitarium. Day after day, week after week passed and the doctor could only bring the same sad news to the two women, who every morning awaited his report with great anxiety. Not the slightest change was noticed. Every means was tried to amuse the boy, to see if he would perhaps laugh. Other attempts were devised to disturb him, to make him cry. They performed all kinds of tricks to attract his attention. All, all were in vain; no trace of interest or emotion was aroused in Toni.
"If he could only be made to laugh or to cry once!" repeated the doctor over and over again.
When he had been four weeks in the sanitarium all hope disappeared, for the doctor had exhausted every means.
"Now I will try one thing more," he said one morning to his wife. "I have written to my friend, the Pastor, and asked him if the boy was very much attached to his mother, and if so, to send for her right away. Perhaps to see her again would make an impression on him."
The two women looked forward in great suspense to Elsbeth's arrival.
In the first week of September the last guests left the hotel in Interlaken where Elsbeth had spent the summer. She immediately started on her way home, for she wanted to get everything in order before Toni came down from the mountain. She never thought but that he was still up there, and had no suspicion of all that had happened. When she reached home, she went at once to the Matten farm to enquire for Toni and to bring the goat home.
The farmer was very friendly, and thought her goat was now by far one of the finest, because she had had good fodder so long. But when Elsbeth asked after her Toni, he broke off abruptly and said he had so much to do, she must go to the Pastor, for he would have the best knowledge about the boy. It immediately seemed to Elsbeth that it was a little strange for the Pastor to know best what happened up on the mountain and while she was leading home the goat, and thinking about the matter, a feeling of anxiety came over her and grew stronger and stronger. As soon as she reached home, she quickly tied the goat, without going into the cottage at all, and ran back the same way she had come, down again to Kandergrund.
The Pastor told her with great consideration, how Toni had not borne the life on the mountain very well and they had been obliged to bring him down, and since it seemed best for him that he should go at once to a good physician for the right care, he had sent the boy immediately to Bern.
His mother was very much shocked and wanted to travel the next day to see for herself if her child was very ill.
But the Pastor said that would not do, but that she should wait until the doctor allowed a visit, and she could be sure that Toni was receiving the best care.
With a heavy heart Elsbeth went back to her cottage. She could do nothing but leave it all to the dear Lord, who alone had been her trust for so many years. But it was only a few days later when the Pastor sent her word that she was to go to Bern at once, as the doctor wished her to come.
Early the following day Elsbeth started. About noon she reached Bern and soon was standing in front of the door of the sanitarium.
She was led to the doctor's living-room and here received with great friendliness by his wife and with still keener sympathy by the lady from Geneva, who had so lived in the history of poor Toni and his mother that she could hardly think of anything else but how to help these two. She had had only the one child and could so well understand the mother's trouble. She had even asked the doctor to allow her to be present when he took the boy to his mother, in order to share in the joy, if the poor boy's delight at seeing her again would affect him as they hoped.
Soon the doctor appeared, and after he had prepared the mother not to expect Toni to speak at the first moment, he brought him in. He led him by the hand into the room, then he let go and stepped to one side.
The mother ran to her Toni and tried to seize his hand. He drew back and pressed into the corner staring into vacancy.
The women and the doctor exchanged sad looks.
His mother went up to him and caressed him. "Toneli, Toneli," she said again and again in a tender voice, "don't you know me? Don't you know your mother any more?"
As always before Toni pressed against the wall, made no motion and stared before him.
In tender tones the mother continued mournfully:
"Oh, Toneli, say just a single word! Only look at me once! Toneli, don't you hear me?"
Toneli remained unmoved.
Still once again the mother looked at him full of tenderness, but only met his staring eyes. It was too much for poor Elsbeth, that the only possession she had on earth, and the one she loved with all her heart, her Toni, should be lost to her, and in such a sad way! She forgot everything around her. She fell on her knees beside her child, and while the tears were bursting from her eyes, she poured out aloud the sorrow in her heart:
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.
Toni's eyes took on a different expression. He looked at his mother. She did not see him and went on imploring in the midst of her tears:
Oh Lord, my soul yearns for thine aid In this dark vale of weeping; For Thee I have waited, hoped and prayed, Assured of thy safe keeping.
Suddenly Toni threw himself on his mother and sobbed aloud. She threw her arms around him and her tears of sorrow turned to loud sobs of joy. The child sobbed aloud also.
"It is won," said the doctor in great delight to the women, who, deeply moved, were looking on at the mother and boy.
Then the doctor opened the door of the next room and beckoned Elsbeth to go in there with Toni. He thought it would be good for both to be alone for a while. In there after a while Toni began to talk quite naturally with his mother and asked her:
"Are we going home, Mother, to the stone hut? Shan't I have to go up on the mountain any more?"
And she quieted him and said she would now take him right home, and they would stay there together. Soon all Toni's thoughts came back again quite clearly, and after a while he said:
"But I must earn something, Mother."
"Don't trouble about that now," said Elsbeth quietly; "the dear Lord will show a way when it is time."
Then they began to talk about the goat, how pretty and fat she had grown, and Toni gradually became quite lively.
After an hour the doctor brought them both into the living-room back to the ladies. Toni was entirely changed, his eyes had now an earnest but quite different expression. The lady from Geneva was indescribably delighted. She sat down beside him at once, and he had to tell her where he had been to school and what he had liked to study.
But the doctor beckoned to Elsbeth to come to him.
"Listen, my good woman," he began, "the words which you repeated made a deep, penetrating impression on the boy's heart. Did he know the hymn already?"
"Oh, my Lord," exclaimed Elsbeth, "many hundred times I have repeated it beside his little bed, when he was very small, often with many tears, and he would weep too, when he didn't know why."
"He wept because you wept, he suffered because you suffered," said the doctor. "Now I understand how he was aroused by these words. With such impressions in early childhood it is no wonder he became a quiet and reserved boy. This explains to me much in the past."
Then the lady from Geneva came up for she wanted to talk with the mother.
"My dear, good woman, he certainly must not go up on the mountain again. He is not fit for it," she said in great eagerness. "We must find something different for him. Has he no taste for some other occupation? But it must be light, for he is not strong and needs care."
"Oh, yes, he has a great desire to learn something," said his mother. "From a little boy he has wished for it, but I hardly dare mention it."
"There, there, my good woman, tell me right away about it," said the lady encouragingly, expecting something unheard-of.
"He wants so much to be a wood-carver, and has a good deal of talent for it, but the cost of board and instruction together is more than eighty francs."
"Is that all?" exclaimed the lady in the greatest surprise, "is that all? Come, my boy," and she ran to Toni again, "would you really like to become a wood-carver--better than anything else?"
The joy which shone in Toni's eyes, when he answered that he would, showed the lady what she had to do. She had such a longing to help Toni, that she wanted to act immediately that very hour.
"Would you like to learn at once, go to a teacher right away?" she asked him.
Toni gladly replied that he would.
But now came a new thought. She turned to the doctor. "Perhaps he ought to recover his health first?"
The doctor replied that he had been already thinking about that. The mother had told him that she knew a very good master up in Frutigen. "Now I think," he went on to say, "that carving is not a strenuous work, and one of the most important things for Toni is to have for some time good, nourishing food. In Frutigen there is a very good inn, if he only could--"
"I will undertake that, Doctor, I will undertake that," interrupted the lady. "I will go with him. We will start to-morrow. In Frutigen I will provide for Toni's board and lodging and for everything he needs." In her great delight the lady shook hands with both the mother and the boy repeatedly, and went out to instruct her maid about preparations for the journey.
When the mother with her boy had been taken to their room, the doctor said with great delight to his wife:
"We have two recoveries. Our lady is also cured. A new interest has come to her, and you will see she will have new life in providing for this young boy. This has been a beautiful day!"
On the following morning the journey was made to Frutigen, and the little company were so glad and happy together that they reached there before they were aware of it.
At the wood-carver's the lady was told everything that would be needed for the work, and after he had showed them all kinds of instruments, he thought a fine book with good pictures, from which one could work, would be useful.
After the lady had charged him to teach Toni everything in any way necessary for the future, they went to the inn. Here the lady engaged a good room with comfortable bed, and herself arranged with the host a bill of fare for every day in the week. The host promised, with many bows, to follow everything exactly, for he saw very well with whom he had to deal.
Then Toni and his mother had to eat with the lady in the inn, and during the meal she had much more to say. She was going now, she said, the next day, home to Geneva, where there were large shops, in which nothing was sold but carvings. There she would immediately arrange for Toni to send all his articles, so he could begin to work with fresh zeal. Moreover, she insisted that Toni should remain, not two, but three months with the carver, so that he could learn everything from the foundation. He could go from here to visit his mother on Sundays, or she could come to him.
Elsbeth and Toni were so full of gratitude, they could find no words to express it, but the lady understood them nevertheless and bore home a happy heart, such as she had not had for a long time.
It came about just as the doctor had foreseen. The lady, who had not been able to think any more about her home now desired to return to Geneva. She had so many plans to carry out there, that she could hardly wait for the day when she was to go back.
The doctor was delighted to consent to her going soon.
Toni, who had hardly begun with his new teacher, applied himself with so much zeal and skill to his work, that the carver said to his wife in the fourth week:
"If he goes on like this, he will learn to do better than I can."
The three months had come to an end, and Christmas was drawing near. One morning Toni waded through the deep snow up to his home. He looked round and fresh, and his heart was so happy he had to sing aloud as he came along.
But when after a long walk, he suddenly saw the stone hut with the fir-tree thickly covered with snow behind it, tears of joy came to his eyes. He was coming home, home for all time. He ran to the little house, and his mother, who had already seen him, hurried out, and which one of the two was the more delighted, no one could tell; but they were both so happy, as they sat together again in the cottage, that they could think of no greater fortune on earth. Their highest wish was fulfilled. Toni was a wood-carver, and could carry on his work at home with his mother. And with what blessings besides the dear Lord was still overwhelming them! From Geneva such good things kept coming to Elsbeth, that she no longer had to dread anxious days, and with each package came new assurance of the ready acceptance of Toni's work.
Such a Christmas festival as was celebrated two days later in the stone hut, neither Elsbeth nor Toni had ever known before, for the candles which his mother had lighted shone out upon a quantity of things, which Toni had received to wear, and also a whole set of the most beautiful knives for carving and a book with pictures, of a size and beauty such as Toni had never in all his life seen before. His master's book was a mere child's toy beside it. Elsbeth too was lovingly provided for. The lady from Geneva had planned everything, and the bright reflection from it fell back radiantly into her own heart.
The most beautiful deer and huntsman and the wonderful eagles on the rock, standing in the high show-window in Geneva was carved by Toni, and was considered by him to be a particularly successful piece, so it went, not to the dealer in Geneva, but to the lady for whom Toni preserved a thankful heart all his life long.