Chapter I. All is Well with Moni

It is a long, steep climb up to the Bath House at Fideris, after leaving the road leading up through the long valley of Prattigau. The horses pant so hard on their way up the mountain that you prefer to dismount and clamber up on foot to the green summit.

After a long ascent, you come first to the village of Fideris, which lies on the pleasant green height, and from there you go on farther into the mountains, until the lonely buildings connected with the Baths appear, surrounded on all sides by rocky mountains. The only trees that grow up there are firs, covering the peaks and rocks, and it would all look very gloomy if the delicate mountain flowers with their brilliant coloring were not peeping forth everywhere through the low pasture grass.

One clear summer evening two ladies stepped out of the Bath House and went along the narrow footpath, which begins to mount not far from the house and soon becomes very steep as it ascends to the high, towering crags. At the first projection they stood still and looked around, for this was the very first time they had come to the Baths.

"It is not very lively up here, Aunt," said the younger, as she let her eyes wander around. "Nothing but rocks and fir woods, and then another mountain and more fir trees on it. If we are to stay here six weeks, I should like occasionally to see something more amusing."

"It would not be very amusing, at all events, if you should lose your diamond cross up here, Paula," replied the aunt, as she tied together the red velvet ribbon from which hung the sparkling cross. "This is the third time I have fastened the ribbon since we arrived; I don't know whether it is your fault or the ribbon's, but I do know that you would be very sorry if it were lost."

"No, no," exclaimed Paula, decidedly, "the cross must not be lost, on any account. It came from my grandmother and is my greatest treasure."

Paula herself seized the ribbon, and tied two or three knots one after the other, to make it hold fast. Suddenly she pricked up her ears: "Listen, listen, Aunt, now something really lively is coming."

A merry song sounded from far above them; then came a long, shrill yodel; then there was singing again.

The ladies looked upwards, but could see no living thing. The footpath was very crooked, often passing between tall bushes and then between projecting slopes, so that from below one could see up only a very short distance. But now there suddenly appeared something alive on the slopes above, in every place where the narrow path could be seen, and louder and nearer sounded the singing.

"See, see, Aunt, there! Here! See there! See there!" exclaimed Paula with great delight, and before the aunt was aware of it, three, four goats came bounding down, and more and more of them, each wearing around the neck a little bell so that the sound came from every direction. In the midst of the flock came the goat-boy leaping along, and singing his song to the very end:

  "And in winter I am happy,
  For weeping is in vain,
  And, besides, the glad springtime
  Will soon come again."

Then he sounded a frightful yodel and immediately with his flock stood right before the ladies, for with his bare feet he leaped as nimbly and lightly as his little goats.

"I wish you good evening!" he said as he looked gayly at the two ladies, and would have continued on his way. But the goat-boy with the merry eyes pleased the ladies.

"Wait a minute," said Paula. "Are you the goat-boy of Fideris? Do the goats belong to the village below?"

"Yes, to be sure!" was the reply.

"Do you go up there with them every day?"

"Yes, surely."

"Is that so? and what is your name?"

"Moni is my name--"

"Will you sing me the song once more, that you have just sung? We heard only one verse."

"It is too long," explained Moni; "it would be too late for the goats, they must go home." He straightened his weather-beaten cap, swung his rod in the air, and called to the goats which had already begun to nibble all around: "Home! Home!"

"You will sing to me some other time, Moni, won't you?" called Paula after him.

"Surely I will, and good night!" he called back, then trotted along with the goats, and in a short time the whole flock stood still below, a few steps from the Bath House by the rear building, for here Moni had to leave the goats belonging to the house, the beautiful white one and the black one with the pretty little kid. Moni treated the last with great care, for it was a delicate little creature and he loved it more than all the others. It was so attached to him that it ran after him continually all day long. He now led it very tenderly along and placed it in its shed; then he said:

"There, Maggerli, now sleep well; are you tired? It is really a long way up there, and you are still so little. Now lie right down, so, in the nice straw!"

After he had put Maggerli to bed in this way, he hurried along with his flock, first up to the hill in front of the Baths, and then down the road to the village.

Here he took out his little horn and blew so vigorously into it, that it resounded far down into the valley. From all the scattered houses the children now came running out; each rushed upon his goat, which he knew a long way off; and from the houses near by, one woman and then another seized her little goat by the cord or the horn, and in a short time the entire flock was separated and each creature came to its own place. Finally Moni stood alone with the brown one, his own goat, and with her he now went to the little house on the side of the mountain, where his grandmother was waiting for him, in the doorway.

"Has all gone well, Moni?" she asked pleasantly, and then led the brown goat to her shed, and immediately began to milk her. The grandmother was still a robust woman and cared for everything herself in the house and in the shed and everywhere kept order. Moni stood in the doorway of the shed and watched his grandmother. When the milking was ended, she went into the little house and said: "Come, Moni, you must be hungry."

She had everything already prepared. Moni had only to sit down at the table; she seated herself next him, and although nothing stood on the table but the bowl of corn-meal mush cooked with the brown goat's milk, Moni hugely enjoyed his supper. Then he told his grandmother what he had done through the day, and as soon as the meal was ended he went to bed, for in the early dawn he would have to start forth again with the flock.

In this way Moni had already spent two summers. He had been goat-boy so long and become so accustomed to this life and grown up together with his little charges that he could think of nothing else. Moni had lived with his grandmother ever since he could remember. His mother had died when he was still very little; his father soon after went with others to military service in Naples, in order to earn something, as he said, for he thought he could get more pay there.

His wife's mother was also poor, but she took her daughter's deserted baby boy, little Solomon, home at once and shared what she had with him. He brought a blessing to her cottage and she had never suffered want.

Good old Elizabeth was very popular with every one in the whole village, and when, two years before, another goat-boy had to be appointed, Moni was chosen with one accord, since every one was glad for the hard-working Elizabeth that now Moni would be able to earn something. The pious grandmother had never let Moni start away a single morning, without reminding him:

"Moni, never forget how near you are up there to the dear Lord, and that He sees and hears everything, and you can hide nothing from His eyes. But never forget, either, that He is near to help you. So you have nothing to fear, and if you can call upon no human being up there, you have only to call to the dear Lord in your need, and He will hear you immediately and come to your aid."

So from the very first Moni went full of trust up to the lonely mountains and the highest crags, and never had the slightest fear of dread, for he always thought:

"The higher up, the nearer I am to the dear Lord, and so all the safer whatever may happen."

So Moni had neither care nor trouble and could enjoy everything he did from morning till night. It was no wonder that he whistled and sang and yodeled continually, for he had to give vent to his great happiness.