Uncle Titus and His Visit to the Country by Johanna Spyri
Chapter I. Under the Lindens.
The daily promenaders who moved slowly back and forth every afternoon under the shade of the lindens on the eastern side of the pretty town of Karlsruhe were very much interested in the appearance of two persons who had lately joined their ranks. It was beyond doubt that the man was very ill. He could only move slowly and it was touching to see the care with which his little companion tried to make herself useful to him. He supported himself with his right hand on a stout stick, and rested his left upon the shoulder of the child at his side, and one could see that he needed the assistance of both. From time to time he would lift his left hand and say gently,
"Tell me, my child, if I press too heavily upon you."
Instantly, however, the child would catch his hand and press it down again, assuring him,
"No, no, certainly not, Papa, lean upon me still more: I do not even notice it at all."
After they had walked back and forth for a while, they seated themselves upon one of the benches that were placed at convenient distances under the trees, and rested a little.
The sick man was Major Falk, who had been in Karlsruhe only a short time. He lived before that in Hamburg with his daughter Dora, whose mother died soon after the little girl came into the world, so that Dora had never known any parent but her father. Naturally, therefore, the child's whole affection was centred upon Major Falk, who had always devoted himself to his little motherless girl with such tenderness that she had scarcely felt the want of a mother, until the war with France broke out, and he was obliged to go with the Army. He was away for a long time, and when at last he returned, it was with a dangerous wound in his breast. The Major had no near relatives in Hamburg, and he therefore lived a very retired life with his little daughter as his only companion, but in Karlsruhe he had an elder half-sister, married to a literary man, Mr. Titus Ehrenreich.
When Major Falk was fully convinced that his wound was incurable, he decided to remove to Karlsruhe, in order not to be quite without help when his increasing illness should make it necessary for him to have some aid in the care of his eleven-year-old daughter. It did not take long to make the move. He rented a few rooms in the neighborhood of his sister, and spent the warm spring afternoons enjoying his regular walk under the shade of the lindens with his little daughter as his supporter and loving companion.
When he grew weary of walking and they sat down on a bench to rest, the Major had always some interesting story to tell, to beguile the time, and Dora was certain that no one in the whole world could tell such delightful stories as her father, who was indeed in her opinion the most agreeable and lovable of men. Her favorite tales, and those which the Major himself took most pleasure in relating, were little incidents in the life of Dora's mother, who was now is heaven. He loved to tell the child how affectionate and happy her mother had always been, and how many friends she had won for herself, and how she always brought sunshine with her wherever she went, and how nobody ever saw her who did not feel at once attracted to her, and how she was even now remembered by those who had known and loved her during life.
When Major Falk once began to talk about his dearly-beloved wife, he was apt to forget the flight of time, and often the cool evening wind first aroused him with its chilly breath to the fact that he was lingering too long in the outer air. Then he and his little Dora would rise from the bench in the shade of the lindens, and slowly wander back into town, until they stopped before a many-storied house in a narrow street, and the Major would generally say,
"We must go up to see Uncle Titus and Aunt Ninette this afternoon, Dora." And as they slowly climbed the steep staircase, he would add, "Softly now, little Dora, you know your Uncle is always writing very learned books, and we must not disturb him by any unnecessary noise, and indeed, Dora, I do not think your Aunt is any more fond of noise than he is."
So Dora went up upon the tips of her toes as quietly as a mouse, and the Major's ring could scarcely be heard, he pulled the bell so gently! Generally Aunt Ninette opened the door herself, saying,
"Come in, come in, dear brother! Very softly, if you please, for you know your brother-in-law is busy at work."
So the three moved noiselessly along the corridor and crept into the sitting room. Uncle Titus' study was the very next room, so that the conversation was carried on almost in whispers, but it must be said Major Falk was less liable to forget the necessary caution against disturbing the learned writer than Aunt Ninette herself, for that lady being oppressed with many cares and troubles had always to break into frequent lamentation.
When June came, it was safe and pleasant to linger late under the shade of the lindens, but the pair in whom we are interested often turned their steps homeward earlier than they wished, in order not to arouse Aunt Ninette's ever-ready reproaches. But one warm evening when the sky was covered with rosy and golden sunset clouds, the Major and Dora lingered watching the lovely sight longer than was their wont. They sat silent hand in hand on the bench by the side of the promenade, and Dora could not take her eyes from her father's face as he sat with upturned look gazing into the sky. At last she exclaimed:
"I wish you could see yourself, papa, you look all golden and beautiful. I am sure the angels in heaven look just as you do now."
Her father smiled. "It will soon pass away from me, Dora, but I can imagine your mother standing behind those lovely clouds and smiling down upon us with this golden glory always upon her face."
As the Major said, it did pass away very soon; his face grew pale, and shone no longer; the golden light faded from the sky and the shades of night stole on. The Major rose, and Dora followed him rather sadly. The beautiful illumination had passed too quickly.
"We shall stand again in this glory, my child, nay, in a far more beautiful one," said her father consolingly, "when we are all together again, your mother and you and I, where there will be no more parting and the glory will be everlasting."
As they climbed up the high staircase to say good night to Uncle and Aunt, the latter awaited them on the landing, making all sorts of silent signs of alarm and distress, but she did not utter a sound until she had them safely within the sitting room. Then, having softly closed the door, she broke forth complainingly,
"How can you make me so uneasy, dear brother? I have been dreadfully anxious about you. I imagined all kinds of shocking accidents that might have happened, and made you so late in returning home! How can you be so heedless as to forget that it is not safe for you to stay out after sunset. Now I am sure that you have taken cold. And what will happen, who can tell? Something dreadful, I am certain."
"Calm yourself, I beg you, dear Ninette," said the Major soothingly, as soon as he could get in a word. "The air is so mild, so very warm, that it could not possibly harm anybody, and the evening was glorious, perfectly wonderful. Let me enjoy these lovely summer evenings on earth as long as I can; it will not be very long at the farthest. What is sure to come, can be neither delayed nor hastened much by anything I may do."
These words, however, although they were spoken in the quietest possible tone, called forth another torrent of reproach and lamentation.
"How can you allow yourself to speak in that way? How can you say such dreadful things?" cried the excited woman over and over again. "It will not happen. What will become of us all; what will become of--you know what I mean," and she cast a meaning glance at Dora. "No, Karl, it would be more than I could bear, and we never have more trouble sent to us than we can bear; I do not know how I should live; I could not possibly endure it."
"My dear Ninette" said her brother quietly, "Do not forget one thing,
"'Thou art not in command, Thou canst not shape the end; God holds us in his hand: God knows the best to send.'"
"Oh, of course, I know all that well enough. I know that is all true," assented Aunt Ninette, "but when one cannot see the end nor the help, it is enough to kill one with anxiety. And then you have such a way of speaking of terrible things as if they were certain to come, and I cannot bear it, I tell you; I cannot."
"Now we will say good-night and not stand and dispute any longer, my dear sister," said the Major, holding out his hand, "we will both try to remember the words of the verse--'God knows the best to send.'"
"Yes, yes, I'll remember. Only don't take cold going across the street, and step very softly as you go down the stairs, and Dora, do you hear! Close the door very gently, and Karl, be careful of the draught, as you cross the street!"
While the good irritating Aunt was calling after them all these unnecessary cautions, Dora and her father had gone down the stairs and had softly closed the house-door. They had only a narrow alley to cross to reach their own rooms opposite.
The next afternoon, as Dora and her father seated themselves on their favorite bench under the lindens, the child asked,
"Papa, is it possible that Aunt Ninette never knew the verse you repeated to her last night?"
"Oh yes, my child, she has always known the lines," replied the Major. "It is only for the moment that your good aunt allows herself to be so overwhelmed with care and worry as to forget who governs all wisely. She is a good woman, and in her heart she places her trust in God's goodness. She soon comes to herself again."
Dora was silent for a while, and then she said thoughtfully,
"Papa, how can we help being 'overwhelmed with care and worry?' and 'killed with anxiety,' as Aunt Ninette said."
"By always remembering that everything comes to us from the good God, my dear child. When we are happy, we must think of Him and thank Him; when sorrow comes we must not be frightened and distressed, for we know that the good God sends it, and that it will be for our good. So we shall never be 'overwhelmed with care and worry,' for even when some bitter trouble comes, in which we can see no help nor escape, we know that God can bring good out of what seems to us wholly evil. Will you try to think of this, my child? for sorrow comes to all, and you will not escape it more than another. But God will help you if you put your trust in Him."
"Yes, I understand you, papa, and I will try to do as you say. It is far better to trust in God, than to let one's self be overwhelmed with care and worry.'"
"But we must not forget," continued her father, after a pause, "that we must not only think of God, when something special happens, but in everything that we do, we must strive to act according to His holy will. If we never think of Him, except when we are unhappy, we shall not then be able easily to find the way to him, and that is the greatest grief of all."
Dora repeated that she would ask God to keep her in the right way, and as she spoke, her father softly stroked her hand, as it lay in his. He did not speak again for a long time, but his eyes rested so lovingly and protectingly on his little girl, that she felt as if folded in a tender and strengthening embrace.
The sun sank in golden radiance behind the green lindens, and slowly the father and child wended their way towards the high house in the narrow street.