What Sami Sings with the Birds by Johanna Spyri
Chapter Fourth. Hard Times
The following morning Sami was awakened by loud tones, but it was no longer the birds singing; it was the farmer's wife ordering the boys harshly to get up right away. She had already called them three times, and if this time they didn't obey, their father would come. Then they all sprang out of bed and in a few minutes were down-stairs, where their father was already sitting at the table and would not have waited much longer.
The day did not pass very differently from the one before, and thus passed a long series of days. There was already a change in the work.
Sami, little by little, learned to do everything very well, for he took pains and followed his grandmother's advice carefully. He always had something to do for the other boys still, so that he never finished his work a moment before supper-time. But he was no longer late. A change had also come about in this. Stoeffi had learned that there was one thing Sami could not or would not do which he himself could do very well: he could not tell a lie.
He had been late again a couple of times, but had never told the reason. Finally, however, the farmer had spoken harshly:
"Now speak out, and tell why you can't get through your work faster; you are quick enough when anyone is watching you."
Then Sami had accordingly told all the truth, and the father had threatened to beat the boys if they didn't do their work themselves. Afterwards Stoeffi had thrashed Sami to punish him, and had warned him that he would do it every time Sami complained of him.
Sami had replied that he had never complained and didn't want to do so, but when his father questioned him he could only tell him the truth. Stoeffi tried to explain to him that it didn't matter whether he told the truth or not, but here he found Sami more obstinate than he had expected, and no matter what fearful threats he hurled at him, he always said the same thing in the end:
"But I shall do it."
This firmness was the result of Sami's sure conviction that the dear Lord heard and knew everything and that lying was something wicked, which did not please Him.
So Stoeffi had to find some other way to get off from his work early and make Sami finish what he left. He found that all three could never dare abandon their work and leave it for Sami, but one of them might do so each evening, and he threatened to punish his brothers severely if they would not agree to this. Then there would always be three or four evenings in succession when Stoeffi wanted to go away early; then the brothers had to stay and work, and this led to many a quarrel, with heavy blows which regularly fell upon Sami.
So he never had any happy days. But every evening he could be alone with his thoughts of his grandmother, of all the beautiful bygone days and all the good words she had spoken to him. Nobody troubled him, or called to him, or pulled him then, as usually happened all day long.
Thus the Summer and Autumn passed away, and a cold Winter had come. There was no more work to be done in the fields and meadows, but there were all sorts of things to be done to help the farmer in the barn and his wife in the house and the kitchen. This Sami had to do.
Meanwhile their own three boys could go to school, which had now begun again, for they had to get some education. Sami could get that by and by. In the Summer he had acquired a good deal of quickness and now did his work so skilfully that the farmer said a couple of times:
"I would not have believed it, for in the Summer he was always the last."
Sami now thought that everything would go easier than in the Summer, but something came which was much harder to bear than the extra burden of work, which was too much for the others.
Every day the boys fought in the field outside, and Sami, as the smallest, always came off with the most blows. But that was the end of it, and when the boys came home at night no one thought any more about it. In the evening the three boys were assigned to the little room with the feeble light of a low oil lamp, to do their arithmetic for school, while Sami had to cut apples and pears for drying. From the first the three were angry because Sami had no arithmetic to do, and then one would accuse the other of taking the light away from him, and all three would scream that Sami didn't need any at all for his work. Then one would pull the lamp one way, and another the other way, until it was upset and the oil would run over the table into Sami's apples. Then there would be a really murderous tumult in the darkness; all hands would grope in the oil and one would always outcry the others. Then the mother would come in very cross and want to know who was always starting such mischief. Then one would blame the other, and finally the blame would fall on Sami, because he made the least noise. Usually the farmer too came in then, and his angry wife would always reply that she had indeed said the boy would be an apple of discord in the house, and a Winter like this they had never experienced. Often Sami had to endure many hard words and undeserved punishment. On such evenings he remained sleepless for a long time sitting on his bed.
Then he would rack his brains as to how it could happen so, since his grandmother had told him that if he was God-fearing everything would happen for the best. That he should be so scolded and badly treated was not the best for him. He really wanted to be God-fearing and not forget that the dear Lord saw and heard everything. But Sami was still very young and could not know, what he later knew, that it is good for everyone if he learns early in life to bear hardship. Then when the evil days, which none escape, come again later on, he can cope with them bravely, because he knows them already and his strength has become hardened; and when the good days come he can enjoy them as no one else can who has never tasted the bad ones.
At this time Sami knew nothing about this and almost never went to sleep without tears; indeed, he often wondered whether the birds were still calling up in the ash-trees: "Only trust in the dear Lord!" and if it were still true that everything would come out right. The only comfort for him was that his grandmother had told him so positively, and he held fast to that.
It was a long, hard Winter. The snow lay so deep and immovable on the meadows and trees, that Sami often asked with anxiety in his heart, if it would ever entirely disappear, so that the meadows would be green again, and the flowers become alive. It was already April, and the cold white covering of snow still lay all around. Then a warm wind from the South blew all one night into the valley, and when on the next day a very warm rain fell, the obstinate snow melted into great brooks. Then came the sun and dried up all the brooks, and everywhere the new young grass sprang up over the meadows.
The four boys came across the big street of the village and turned into the meadow. They were pulling along the cart, on which lay the cooking utensils which the farmer's wife had just purchased at the annual fair in the village. The boys had followed their mother's command to go slowly and carefully, so that nothing would be broken, for they knew very well that their mother set great store by these things, and it was worth while to follow her instructions.
Now that they had come safely over the rough street and had turned into the meadow road, two pulling, two pushing, they wanted to rest a little while. They stopped under the first large pear-tree, stretched themselves out on the ground and looked up into the blue sky. In the pear-tree above, the birds were singing merrily together, and suddenly one piped up in the midst of the others, always the same note, exactly as if he had a special call to give.
"There he is," cried Sami, springing up from the ground with delight. Then he listened again, and again sounded the staccato call, clear and sharp above the singing of all the other birds.
"Do you hear it? Do you hear it?" cried Sami in his delight. "Now he is calling again: 'Trust! Trust! Trust! Trust!' And then they all sing together: 'Only trust the dear Lord!'"
"You are just talking nonsense!" exclaimed Stoeffi to the happy Sami. "The bird is more knowing than you are. That is the rain bird; I know him well. He notices the rain-wind and is calling: 'Shower! Shower! Shower!' Then we know it is going to rain."
But Sami would not give up what was so dear to him and kept saying to himself:
"But he is singing: 'Trust! Trust! Trust! Trust!'"
"Keep quiet!" continued Stoeffi sharply to him. "You are nothing but a little tramp, who can't do anything and doesn't know anything and twists everything he hears."
Then the blood rose to Sami's cheeks and the tears came into his eyes and, more courageously than usual towards Stoeffi, he cried:
"I don't do that, but you have done it many times!"
Then Stoeffi sprang up and seized hold of Sami to throw him down; but in his anger Sami turned quite differently from usual, so that Stoeffi had to call the others to help him.
A great struggle ensued; the blows became more and more violent, first on one side and then on the other. Suddenly the cart was upset. A fearful cracking and crashing sounded, and a great heap of red, brown and white crockery lay on the ground. Dumb with fright, the boys stood and looked at the destruction.
Stoeffi was the first to recover himself.
"We will say that a wheel came off the cart, and it suddenly fell down." He immediately picked up a big stone in order to pound out the nail and take the wheel off from the axle.
"I shall say just how it all happened, that we quarreled, and upset the wagon," said Sami calmly.
Then Steffi's wrath rose to its height.
"You traitor, you spy and mischief-maker!" he screamed. "You are nothing but a ragamuffin. We will force you."
"You cannot," said Sami, "and you are no good either! If you were God-fearing, you would not want to lie so."
"Well, well," they all screamed together, and shaking their fists in the most threatening way. "You needn't say that. We are just exactly as God-fearing as you, and even much more so!"
Suddenly a new thought came to Stoeffi. He ran off with all his might, and Michael and Uli rushed after him. Sami saw that they were hurrying to the house; he followed slowly after. The farmer's wife had come back to the house by a shorter way, and the farmer was just returning home too from the field, when the three boys came rushing along. The whole family was standing in great excitement at the door and all were talking loudly together and making threatening gestures, when Sami came along. He was met by the farmer, shaking his fist, and his wife threw such harsh words at him that he stood quite dumfounded.
"That was the last straw," she said, "that after all the kindness he had received he should tell them they were not God-fearing people."
Then the farmer joined in. Such talk was insolent from Sami, and it had been known for a long time how upright they were in his house, before such a scamp had come there and tried to show them the way. Then his wife began again and said Sami would have nothing more to do in her house; for he had brought nothing but trouble since he stepped into it; he could go to his room, and she would come right along.
Sami was so surprised and confused by all the attacks and charges, that he had stood quite dumb until now. Now he wanted to explain how the cart had been upset, but the father said they knew everything already, and all he had to do was to go to his room. He obeyed.
Soon the farmer's wife came upstairs, packed Sami's things together and tied them up again into a bundle, which was now much smaller than when he had brought it there, for some pieces of his old things had been worn out and were not replaced, and his grandmother's clothes were no longer there.
While she was packing the woman kept on talking very angrily about Sami's wickedness and insolence, so that he now for the first time understood it all. The boys had stated that he had reproached them for not being God-fearing people; they had punished him for it, and through his resistance he had overturned the cart. Sami now tried to explain to the woman that it had not happened so, but she said she knew enough, threw his tied-up bundle beside his bed, and went out.
Now for the first time Sami was able to think over what had happened to him and what was going to come. Then he was angry because he had to bear such injustice and not once have a chance to speak. And now he was driven out, or perhaps he would be sent to people where it would be even worse for him. Then he was so overcome with anger and fear and anguish, that he began to cry aloud and called out:
"Yes, yes, Grandmother, you said if I was God-fearing everything would happen to me for the best; and I have been, and now it has happened this way!"
But with the thought of his grandmother, there rose in his heart all the memories of his life with her, how they had wandered so peacefully through the meadows, and how beautiful it had been under those trees, how the birds had sung and the brook murmured, and suddenly Sami was mightily overcome, and he exclaimed:
"Away! away! Over there! over there!"
From that moment on a bright light rose in his heart. It was hope in a new life as beautiful as the first had been. Then Sami said his evening prayer gladly and fell asleep.