Uncle Titus and His Visit to the Country by Johanna Spyri
Chapter IV. All Six.
"We shall not be able to remain here; Mrs. Kurd," were the first words spoken by Mrs. Ehrenreich when she came to breakfast the next morning. "We have come into such an objectionable neighborhood that we must move away today."
Mrs. Kurd stood still in the middle of the room, quite speechless, and stared at the lady as if unable to grasp her meaning.
"I am fully convinced of the absolute necessity of our immediate departure," said Aunt Ninette, with emphasis.
"But indeed no more respectable, no quieter spot can be found in all Tannenburg than this. You cannot hope to be more comfortable anywhere else; either you or the gentleman," asserted the good widow as soon as she had recovered from her surprise.
"How can you say so, Mrs. Kurd, after hearing that intolerable uproar last evening? noises far surpassing anything that I described to you in my letters as 'absolutely to be avoided.'"
"Oh, my dear lady, that was only the children! You know they were having a family festival, and they were of course unusually lively."
"Indeed! if this is your method of celebrating family festivals in these parts, first a tempest of shouts and cries and then a fire with all its accompanying noise and hubbub, I can only say that such a neighborhood seems to me not only undesirable for an invalid, but positively dangerous."
"I do not think you can call the fire a part of the celebration," said Mrs. Kurd gently. "It was an accident, and it was very quickly extinguished, you must admit. A more orderly and well regulated family is nowhere to be found, and I cannot understand how the lady and gentleman can seriously think of leaving. I can assure you that no other such spot is to be found in all Tannenburg! If the gentleman needs quiet he will do well to walk into the wood, where it is healthful and quiet too."
After talking awhile, Mrs. Ehrenreich became more composed, and seated herself at the breakfast table, where Mr. Titus and Dora also took their places.
At the other house, breakfast had long been finished. The father had gone about his business, and the mother was occupied with her household affairs. Rolf was off to his early recitations in Latin, with the pastor of a neighboring parish. Paula was taking her music-lesson of the governess, and Wili and Lili took this opportunity to look over their lessons once more. Little Hunne sat in the corner with his newly-acquired nut-cracker before him, gravely studying its grotesque face.
Presently 'big Jule' came in, whip in hand, all booted and spurred from his morning ride.
"Who will pull off my riding boots?" he asked, throwing himself into a chair, stretching out his legs, and gazing admiringly at his new spurs. Wili and Lili sprang quickly from their seats, delighted at the chance of doing something that was not a lesson, and each seized a foot and began to pull with such force that before Jule knew what they were about he found himself slipping from his chair. In the next second he had grasped the side of his chair with the result that that also was pulled along the floor. He called out hastily "Stop! Stop!" while little Hunne, who saw the situation from his corner, now flew to his elder brother's assistance, hung on to the chair from behind, planting his little feet firmly on the ground, and throwing his weight backward as well as he knew how. His efforts were insufficient, however, and he was dragged along the floor as if he were on a coast. Wili and Lili were determined to finish their undertaking, and kept on pulling and pulling.
"Stop! Stop! Wiling and Liling You terrible twinning"
cried Jule, while little Hunne added his voice to swell the tumult.
At this the mother made her appearance upon the scene, and the uproar was stilled at once. Jule swung himself panting back into his chair, and Hunne slowly regained his equilibrium.
"My dear Jule, why do you make the children behave so badly? You ought to know better at your age," said his mother reprovingly.
"Certainly, mother, certainly, in future I will do better, but if you will look at it from another side, I am doing something, in affording the twins an opportunity to be of use, instead of carrying on their usual mischievous pranks."
"Jule, Jule, that does not look like doing better," said his mother warningly. "Lili, go down stairs and practise your exercises until Miss Hanenwinkel has finished Paula's music lesson. Wili, go on with your studying, and the best thing you can do, Jule, to help me, is to amuse the little one until I am at leisure."
The "big Jule" was ready to help to restore order after his bit of fun, and Lili ran down stairs to the piano as she was bidden. She found herself too much excited after the exertion of playing boot-jack for her brother, and her exercises did not run smoothly, so she took up one of her "pieces" to work off her superfluous energy upon, and began to play with great emphasis,
"Live your life merrily, While the lamp glows, Ere it can fade and die, Gather the rose."
Uncle Titus and his wife were just finishing their breakfast in a neighboring house when the affair of the boots began. Uncle Titus hastened to his room, closing the windows and fastening them against the noise. His wife summoned their hostess rather peremptorily, and asked her "just to listen to that" for herself. It did not seem to make much impression upon Mrs. Kurd however, who only said smilingly,
"Oh, how merry the dear children are, to be sure," and when Aunt Ninette went on to explain that such disturbances were the very worst thing for her poor invalid, the hostess only again recommended the walk in the woods for quiet and fresh air! The noise in the next house would not last long, she said, the young gentleman would soon return to college, and it would be much more quiet then. As she spoke, the sound of Lili's merry music came across through the open window on the morning breeze.
"And that too, is that the work of the young gentleman, who will soon return to college?" asked Mrs. Ehrenreich excitedly. "It is unendurable; continually some new noise or tumult or uproar. What do you say to this last, Mrs. Kurd?"
"I never have thought of it as noise," said the good woman simply, "the dear child is making such progress with her music, it is a pleasure to hear her."
"And Dora, where can Dora be? Is she bewitched too? It is time for her to begin her sewing; where can she be? Dora! Dora! Have you gone into the garden again?"
Aunt Ninette's voice was querulous and excited. To be sure, Dora had crept down again to peer through her opening in the hedge, and she was now listening as if enchanted, to Lili's gay music. She came back at once at the sound of her aunt's voice, and took her appointed place at the window where she was to sit and sew all day.
"Well, we cannot stay here, that is certain," said Mrs. Ehrenreich as she left the room.
The tears started to Dora's eyes at these words. She did so long to remain here, where she could hear and partly see now and then, the merry healthy life of these children in the beautiful garden beyond the hedge. It was her only knowledge of true child-life. As she sewed, she was planning and puzzling her brain with plans for prolonging their stay, but could think of nothing that seemed likely to be of use.
It was now eleven o'clock. Rolf came scampering home from his recitations, and catching sight of his mother through the open door of the kitchen, he ran to her, calling out before he reached the threshold, "Mamma, mamma, now guess. My first--"
"My dear Rolf" interrupted his mother, "I beg of you to find some one else to guess. I have not time now, truly. Go find Paula, she has just gone into the sitting-room."
"Paula," he called out, "My first--"
"No, Rolf, please, not just now, I am looking for my blank-book to write my French translation in. There is Miss Hanenwinkel, she is good at guessing, ask her."
"Miss Hanenwinkel," cried poor Rolf, pouncing upon her, "My first--"
"Not a moment, not a second, Rolf," said the governess hastily. "There is Mr. Julius over there in the corner, letting the little one crack nuts for him. He is not busy; I am. Good-bye, I'll see you again."
Miss Hanenwinkel had been in England, and had taken a great fancy to this form of expression much in vogue there, and she constantly used it as a form of farewell, whether it was apropos or not. Thus she would say to the persistent scissors-grinder, who came to the door,
"Have you come back so soon? Do go where you are wanted if there is any such place. Good-bye. I'll see you again," and shut the door with a slam.
Or to the traveling agent who brought his wares to show, if asked to dismiss him, she would say,
"We want nothing; you know very well. Don't come here again. Good-bye. I'll see you again," and shut the door in his face. This was a peculiarity of Miss Hanenwinkel.
Julius was quietly seated in a corner of the sitting-room, while Hunne stood before him watching with grave attention his nut-cracker's desperate grimaces as he gave him nut after nut to crack in his powerful jaws. Hunne carefully divided each kernel, giving one half to Jule, while he popped the other into his own little mouth.
Rolf approached them, repeating his question, "Will you guess, Jule? You are not busy."
"My first in France, applaudingly The people to the actors cry: With steady aim full in the eye, To hit my second you must try; My whole's a prince of prowess high, Who fought the fight for Germany."
"That is Bismarck, of course," said the quick-witted lad.
"O, O, how quickly you guessed it," said Rolf, quite taken aback.
"Now it is my turn; pay attention. You must try hard for this now. I have just made it up." And Jule declaimed with emphasis:
"My first transforms the night, And puts its peace to flight. My second should you now become, You scarce will move, for fife or drum. My whole hath power to soothe you all, Be your delight in church, or camp, or ball."
"That is hard," said Rolf, who was rather a slow thinker. "Wait a moment, Jule, I shall get it soon." So Rolf sat down on an ottoman to think it over at his ease.
The big Jule and the little Hunne in the mean time pursued their occupation without interruption. As an extra proof of his skill, Julius practised with the shells at hitting different objects in the room, to his little brother's delight and admiration.
"I have it," cried Rolf at last, much delighted. "It is Cat-nip!"
"O, O, what a guess! what are you thinking of? It is something very different, entirely different. It is music. Mew--sick--music, don't you see?"
"Oh, yes," said Rolf rather abashed. "Now wait Jule, here's another. What is this?"
"My first sings by the water side, My next is Heidelberg's great pride, My whole was a blind poet, who In England lived and suffered too."
"Shakspere," said Julius, whose pride it was to answer instantly.
"Wrong," cried Rolf, delighted. "How could a shake sing by the water side, Jule?"
"Oh, I supposed you meant a shake in somebody's voice, as he was riding or driving along," said Jule, to justify himself. "Now what are you laughing at?"
"Because you have made such a wrong guess. It is some one 'very different, entirely different,' Jule. It is Milton, the blind poet Milton. Now try another because you failed in this. My first"--
"No, no, I must beg for a rest. It is too much brain work for vacation. I am going now to see how Castor is after my ride this morning." And Julius dashed off to the stable.
"Oh, what a shame!" cried Rolf, "what a pity! Now there is no one to guess, and I made four splendid charades on my way home. It is too bad that you are not old enough to guess, Hunne."
"But I can guess; I am old enough," said the little fellow rather vexed.
"Well, then try this one, try hard. Stop playing with the nuts and I will crack some more for you bye and bye. Now listen:
"My first conceals from light of day The wanderer on his final way; My second sizzling in the pan, Makes hungrier still the hungry man; My whole, bedecked in trappings gay, Goes ambling on the livelong day."
"A nutcracker," said Hunne without hesitation. Julius was his beau-ideal of all that was best, and he thought that if he imitated Jule, and answered quickly the first thing that came into his head, that was guessing.
But Rolf was angry.
"How can you be so stupid, Hunne? Just think about it a little, can a nut cover some one on his last way?"
"Why, it can cover--well--the shell covers it."
"Nonsense! and a nutcracker can not go ambling all day, can it, you stupid child."
"Now see, mine can," said the little boy, who did not like to be called stupid, and he tied his handkerchief round the neck of the long suffering nutcracker and dragged it after him up and down the room, lifting it up now and then at regular intervals.
"Oh well, yes, you think you're right; and I can't explain it because you don't understand anything about it. Just try to think a little; can you hear a cracker sizzling as its cooks, and will it make you hungry to hear it?"
"If I throw a cracker into the fire, won't it burn?" said the child, planting himself before Rolf and holding his nutcracker saucily before his eyes.
"Oh, there is no use talking to you," said Rolf, and was just about leaving the room, but this was not so easily done, for now Hunne was bitten with the mania for riddle-making himself.
"Stop, Rolf," he cried and grasped his brother by the jacket to hold him. "My first is not good to drink but to eat--"
"Oh dear, well, that must be 'nutcracker' again," and Rolf ran off, wrenching himself from his tormentor's hands. But the boy followed him, crying, "Wrong, wrong! you are wrong. Try again, try again!"
Moreover, Wili and Lili came scampering in from the other side, crying out,
"Rolf, Rolf, a riddle! guess! try!" and Lili held up a strip of paper and rattled it before Rolfs eyes, repeating, "Guess, guess, Rolf."
So the riddle-maker was now caught in his own meshes.
"Well, at least leave me room to guess in," cried he, striking about him with his arms to make room.
"You can't guess anything," cried little Hunne contemptuously, "I am going to Jule--he knows."
Rolf took the little slip of yellowish paper that Lili was waving back and forth, and looked at it in surprise. In a childish hand-writing that he had never seen before, were written the following words,
"Come lay your hand Joined thus we Each the other That our union But behold the That our future We will cut our Half for you and But we still will That our halves And with us Our friendship."
"It is probably a rebus," said Rolf thoughtfully. "I shall guess it after a little while. Just let me stay alone long enough to think it out."
There was not much time left for this however, for the dinner-bell sounded and all the family assembled in the large hall for the mid-day meal.
"What nice thing has my little Hunne done to-day?" asked the father, when they were at last all busy over their plates.
"I made a splendid riddle, Papa, but Rolf never tries to guess my riddles, and I couldn't find Jule, and the rest would not listen to me at all."
"Yes, Papa," interrupted Rolf! "and I too have made three or four splendid ones, but no one has time to guess them, and those who have time enough are so stupid that there is no use in trying to get any answer from them. When Jule has guessed one he thinks he has done enough, and I can make at least six in a day."
"Yes, yes, Papa"--it was now Wili's and Lili's turn--"and we have found such a hard riddle, so hard that even Rolf couldn't guess it. It is really a rebus."
"If you will wait long enough I can get it, I am sure," said Rolf.
"We seem to have a riddle in every comer," said their father. "I believe we have a riddle-fever, and one catches it from another. We really need a regular guesser in the house, to do nothing but guess riddles."
"I wish I could find such a person," said Rolf, sighing, for to be forever making riddles for somebody who would listen with interest and guess with intelligence, seemed to him the most desirable thing in the world.
When dinner was over, the family went merrily into the garden under the apple-tree, and seated themselves in a circle. The mother and Miss Hanenwinkel and the girls were armed with sewing and knitting work. Little Hunne also had a queer-looking bit of stuff in his hand upon which he was trying to work with some red worsted. He said he wanted to embroider a horse-blanket for Jule. Jule had brought a book at his mother's request, to read aloud to them.
Rolf sat a little way off under the ash-tree, and studied his Latin lesson. Wili sat by his side, meaning to study his little piece, but first he looked at the birds in the branches, and then at the laborers in the field, and then at the red apples upon the tree, for Wili loved visible things, and it was only with the greatest difficulty, and generally with Lili's assistance, that he could get the invisible into his little head. Consequently, his afternoon study usually turned to a continuous observation of the surrounding landscape.
Jule also seemed inclined to pass his time in looking about him instead of reading aloud, for he did not open his book, but allowed his eyes to wander in all directions, particularly towards his sister.
"Paula," he said at last, "the expression of your countenance to-day is as if you were a wandering collection of vexations."
"Oh, do read to us, Jule; then we shall have something more agreeable than these similes which nobody can understand the meaning of."
"It would be nicer if you would read, Jule," added her mother, "but I must say too, Paula, that you have been for the last few days so short and snappish that I should really like to know what is amiss with you. You seem out of sorts with every one about you."
"But mamma, with whom can I have any real companionship? I have not a single friend in all Tannenburg. I have nobody in all the world with whom I can be intimate."
The mother suggested that Paula might be a little more friendly with her sister Lili, and also with Miss Hanenwinkel. But Paula declared, that Lili was much too young, and the governess much too old. The latter was really only twenty, but to Paula she seemed very old indeed. For girls to be intimate, she declared they must be of the same age, so that they could thoroughly understand each other's feelings, and they must be always together. Without such a friend Paula said there was no real pleasure in life, for a girl needed some one to whom she could confide her secrets, and who would tell her own in return.
"Yes, Paula is at the romantic age," said her brother. "I am sure that for a long time she has peeped into every field flower to see if it would not suddenly unfurl a hidden banner, and turn into a Joan of Arc. Every little mole that she sees in the fields, she half suspects may wear a seal-ring on his little finger, and be a Gustavus Vasa in disguise, searching amid the mole-hills for his lost kingdom."
"Do not be so teasing, Jule," said his mother reprovingly. "There is certainly something very delightful in such an intimacy as Paula describes. I had such an experience myself, and the memory of that happy time is dear to me even now!"
"Oh, do tell us again about your dear friend Lili, mamma," exclaimed Paula, who had often heard her mother speak of this intimate friendship, and had indeed formed her own ideal upon that model. Lili also joined her sister in begging for the story, and even more urgently, for she knew nothing about this friend, although she bore the same name.
"Was not I named for her, mamma?" she asked, and her mother assented. "You all know the long manufactory under the hill," continued Mrs. Birkenfeld, "with the large house surrounded by a beautiful garden. Lili, my friend, lived there, and I remember very well the first time I ever saw her.
"I was about six years old, and I was playing one day in the parsonage garden with my simple dolls, which I set up on flat stones, that I always collected for seats for my children, whenever and wherever I found them. For I had no such outfit for my dolls as you children have now, no sofas and chairs and other furniture. You all know that your grandfather was the pastor in Tannenburg, and we led a very simple life at the parsonage. My playmates, two of the neighbors' children, were standing as usual by me and staring at me while I played, without saying one word. They never seemed to take the interest in my plays that I thought they deserved. They stood and looked at me with their big eyes, no matter what I did, and it was very annoying to me.
"Well, this evening, I was sitting there, on the ground, with my dolls all placed in a circle, when a lady came into the garden and asked to see my father. Before I could reply, a child whom she was leading by the hand, came running to my side, squatted down by me, and began to examine everything. I had so arranged my stones that each flat one had another stuck into the ground edgewise behind it, so that the doll could be placed leaning back against it as if it were a chair. The child was delighted with this arrangement, and joined in my play at once with the liveliest interest, while on my side I was so charmed with the little stranger's looks and ways, with her pretty floating curls and her sweet voice that I forgot everything else, and looked on bewitched, while she made the dolls say and do all sorts of things that I had never thought of before. I was quite startled when the lady again asked where she could find my father.
"From that day forth Lili and I were inseparable friends, and a rich and happy life was opened to me in her lovely home, such as I had never known nor thought of. I shall never forget the delightful, untroubled days which I spent in that beautiful house. I was almost as much loved and petted as if I had been Lili's own sister. Her parents had come from North Germany. Her father had been induced to buy the factory by the advice of an acquaintance, and they expected to remain permanently in our neighborhood. Lili was an only child, and having been hitherto without companionship of her own age, she clung to me very closely, and I returned her affection with equal fervor.
"What good, kind people her parents were! They asked as a great favor that I might make long visits at their house, and my parents allowed me to pass weeks at a time with my newly found friends. Those visits seemed to me like prolonged festivals. Such lovely toys and playthings as Lili had! I had never even dreamed of anything like them. I shall never forget the innumerable figures cut from fashion plates which we used for paper dolls! We each had a large family of them, with all their kindred and relatives, each one fitted with a name, a character and a story of its own. We almost, nay quite, lived in their imaginary lives, and we shared their joys and sorrows as if they had been real.
"I always returned home laden with gifts, and I was scarcely settled there, when new requests came that I would repeat the visit. When we were a little older we had lessons together, both from a regular teacher and from my father, and when we began to read together, the heroes and heroines of our books were as real to us as our dolls had been, and we lived over their lives and histories again and again. What life and energy Lili had; what freshness and vivacity; my charming Lili, with her flowing brown curls and her laughing eyes!
"So the years passed, and no thought of coming sorrow and separation crossed our young lives, until one day, when we were nearly twelve years old, my father told me--I remember the very spot in the garden where we were standing at that moment--that Mr. Blank, Lili's father, was about to give up his factory and return to Germany. As I understood, Mr. Blank had been deceived from the very beginning; the business was not in the prosperous condition that had been represented to him, and now he was obliged to give it up, to his great loss. My father was very much disturbed, and he declared that Mr. Blank had been very badly treated, and was consequently ruined.
"I was broken-hearted. To lose Lili, and to have her lose all her property, were two things which made my life unhappy for a long, long time. The very next day she came to say good-bye. We cried bitterly, for we could not bear to think of living apart, we were so necessary to each other's happiness. We promised to be always true to each other, and to use every effort to meet again; and then we sat down together and composed a last poem, for we had often written verses together. We cut the poem in halves, and took each a half to keep as a token of our lasting union, and as a sign of recognition when we should some day meet again.
"Lili went away. We wrote to each other for several years, and our friendship continued as fervent as ever. These letters were the only drops of comfort in the monotonous loneliness of my life after I lost Lili. When I was about seventeen, I received a letter which told me that her father had decided to go to America. She promised to write again as soon as they were settled in their new life. I never heard from her again. Whether her letters were lost, or whether the family never staid long enough in one place for her to be able to give me an address, or whether Lili thought that our lives were now so irrevocably separated that we could never hope to resume our intimacy--these are questions that I have often asked myself, but that of course I have had no means of deciding. Perhaps Lili is no longer living; she may have died soon after that very time--I cannot tell. I have mourned her as an irreparable loss, for she was my first, my only intimate girl-friend, and nothing can efface from my mind the memory of her friendship, and of the vast goodness and affection which her family showered upon me. I have inquired for them in every direction, but have never discovered any clue to their existence far or near."
The mother was silent; a very sad expression rested upon her face. The children sympathized with her and said one after the other, sorrowfully, "What a pity, what a pity!" Little Hunne, however, who had listened very attentively to his mother's story, put his arms lovingly around her, and said,
"Don't be so sad, mamma dear! I will go to America as soon as I am big enough, and bring your Lili back with me; that I will!"
Rolf and Wili had drawn near, to hear the story, and presently Rolf said, looking thoughtfully at a strip of paper which he held in his hand,
"Did your piece of paper with the poem look like a rebus, after you had cut it in two, Mamma?"
"Perhaps so, Rolf. I should think it might look like one. Why do you ask?"
"Look here! is this it?" replied the boy, holding up his strip of paper.
"Yes, yes, it certainly is it," cried the mother in great excitement. "I thought it had been lost long ago. I kept it carefully put away for many years, and then in some way I lost sight of it. I thought it was lost forever. Lately I have not thought of it at all, but telling you the story of my early friendship, brought it again to my mind. Where did you find it, my son?"
"We found it!" cried Wili and Lili triumphantly. "It was in the old bible with the queer pictures. We thought we would look at Eve, again, to see whether her face was scratched as it used to be." The twins talked both together as usual.
"Yes, that is another thing that brings my Lili to mind," said their mother, smiling. "She scratched that picture once when we were saying how lovely it would be if we were in Paradise together, and suddenly she felt so furious with Eve because she ate the apple, that she scribbled all over her face with a pencil, 'to punish her,' she said. My old verses! I cannot recall the other half, it is so long ago, over thirty years! only think, children, thirty years ago!"
She laid the paper carefully away in her work-basket, and bade the children put their things together and come into the house, for it was almost supper-time, and their father approved of punctuality above all things.
They gathered up their work and books, and returned slowly to the house under the triumphal arch that still spanned the garden-door of the house.
Dora had been peeping at them as they sat clustered about their mother in an attentive group under the apple-tree. She had now a good chance to examine each child, as they walked slowly back to the house, and as the last one disappeared, she said, softly sighing, "Oh, if I could sit only just once with them under the apple-tree!"
At supper that evening Aunt Ninette said, "We have really had a few hours of quiet. If it goes on so, we shall be able to stay here after all. Don't you think so, dear Titus?"
Dora listened breathlessly for the answer.
"The air in my room is very close, and I suffer more from giddiness than I did at home," was the uncle's reply.
Dora gazed at her plate despondently, and lost her appetite for that supper. Mrs. Ehrenreich broke out into lamentations It was provoking to have made this journey without its being of any use to her husband after all! If they had only moved away at once! However, perhaps there would be less noise over the hedge after this, and the windows could be opened! Dora's hopes rose again, for as long as they staid, there was always a chance that she might go into that garden once, at least once.