Uncle Titus and His Visit to the Country by Johanna Spyri
Chapter V. Before and After the Flood.
There were times when it seemed as if little Hunne could find no resting-place for the sole of his foot, when he wandered restlessly back and forth through the house incessantly. No one would pay any attention to him, he was sent from one person to another, and even his mother only bade him sit quietly at his own little table until she was at liberty to come to him. Of course Hunne's restless moments were just those when everybody was particularly busy, such as Saturday morning when no one had a moment to spare. And on this particular Saturday, the child had been wandering about the passages among the sofas and chairs which, having been put out there during the weekly sweeping, looked as restless and out-of-place as Hunne himself.
He spent a long time looking for his mother and he found her at last up-stairs in the attic, but she sent him down at once, for she was busy with the clothes for the wash. "There, dear, go and find Paula; perhaps she is not busy just now." Hunne found Paula at the piano.
"Go away, Hunne, I must practise," said she. "I have not time to guess your riddles; there comes Miss Hanenwinkel; ask her."
"Miss Hanenwinkel," cried the little boy, "my first you can eat but not drink."
"O spare me, Hunne" interrupted the governess, who seemed in a hurry. "If you break out into charades too, what will become of us? I have not a moment to waste. See, there is Mr. Julius just getting off his horse; ask him."
Off ran Hunne.
"Jule, nobody will guess my riddle, and even Miss Hanenwinkel is too busy, so she sent me to ask you."
"Well, what is it, my little man? out with it," said Jule good-humoredly.
So the child repeated his "you can eat but not drink," and then stopped short.
"Well, go on! What comes next?" said his brother, "what is the rest?"
"You must make the rest, Jule; the whole is nut-cracker."
"Oh yes, I see; that is all right. Now look here; since Miss Hanenwinkel sent you to me to guess for her, I will send one to her by you. Now say it over and over until you have learned it. It is rather long:"
"First cut short your laughter for me, Then spell me a nun with an e, Shut quickly with meaning, one eye, Then add me an el, and--good-bye-- Good-bye till I meet you again."
It did not take Hunne long to learn the lines, and he started off at once to find the governess. She was sitting with Wili and Lili in the school room, patiently trying to get them to finish their examples; but they were both so absent-minded, that she was sure that they were planning something extraordinarily mischievous. In rushed the little Hunne:
"A riddle, Miss Han--"
"No, positively no! This is not the proper time to bring me things to guess."
The voice was very firm, almost severe, but Hunne had Jule to back him, so he was full of courage, and he kept repeating;
"Jule told me to."
"Well, say it then quickly," said the governess, relenting a little.
And Hunne repeated the riddle very slowly but correctly.
Now Miss Hanenwinkel was a native of Bremen, and therefore very quick at repartee, and she never hesitated for an answer. She seated herself directly at a table, and dashed off the following in reply:
"In the long hot hours that mark my first, My whole my second did invite Together gaily to unite. When the ripe nuts their coverings burst, They did the work--he ate his share, Then tossed the nut-shells everywhere."
"There, take this back to Mr. Julius," she said, handing the paper to Hunne, "and tell him that as he made such a fine charade on my name, I do not wish to be behind-hand with him. Now, after this, stay away, little one, for we have our examples to do, and we cannot be interrupted again."
Wili and Lili for their part, did not seem to care if the examples were interrupted. It was only too evident that they had something in their minds; and that it disturbed their little brains to such an extent, that work was almost impossible for them. While their teacher was busy with the charade and little Hunne, the twins had drawn their chairs nearer and nearer, and laid their two heads together over some very important plans--so very important and engrossing that Miss Hanenwinkel soon closed the book, with the remark that if the arithmetic were only some foolish nonsensical trick or other, there might be some chance of their being willing to work over it and understand it. She was probably right, for the twins had certainly an unusual talent for tricks of all kinds. No sooner was the lesson-hour over, than they rushed forth, and betook themselves to the wash-house, where they stood gazing at the tubs of various sizes, and whispering mysteriously.
At dinner-time, Julius taking out a paper, asked,
"Who can guess this excellent charade, composed by Miss Hanenwinkel?" and he read it aloud.
He had scarcely finished when Rolf called out the answer, "July-us!"
Miss Hanenwinkel however said nothing about the lines which Julius had composed on her name, for she was rather shy about the little slap at her peculiarity of speech, that appeared in the last line.
As soon as dinner was over, Wili and Lili ran off to the wash-house again. Saturday afternoon they had no lessons. So they had a beautiful time all to themselves. To be sure, it was understood that the governess should look after them a little. But when she saw the children go into the wash-house, she took it for granted that they were going to have a grand wash of doll's clothes, such as they often had. She was very glad that they would be safely occupied for a few hours at least.
But the twins, be it known, had far greater aspirations this afternoon, than for a simple doll's-wash. They had been playing with the Noah's ark, which their father had brought them, and had thought a great deal about the peculiar and wonderful life those people must have led in the ark at the time of the Flood. It occurred to Lili that she should like to try what it was like, to live in an ark, and even to take a voyage in one, and of course Wili, as usual, agreed with her enthusiastically. Lili's plans were all made; she had thought out all the details, for she was an observing little maiden, and knew the uses of many things and how to turn them to her own purposes. She chose one of the middle-sized wash-tubs for an ark. There would be room enough for all the animals, if they would sit quietly in their places.
Of course the animals were Schnurri and Philomele. The twins tried to coax them to take their parts in the play. Schnurri came growling at their call, but Philomele purred and rubbed back and forth against Lili's legs, till the little girl took her up in her arms, and said,
"Ah, my dear little Philomele, you are a great deal nicer than that old Schnurri."
This was the way it always was with these two creatures. The cat was called Philomele or nightingale, because she purred in such a melodious manner. The dog was named Schnurri, which means growler, because he had a habit of constant growling; though he always had good reason of his own for it. They had both been taught to live peaceably with each other, and to do each other no mischief of any kind. Schnurri was very good about it; followed the rule most punctiliously, and treated Philomele with great consideration. When they ate their dinner from the same dish, he ate slowly, because with her smaller mouth she could not take in as much at a time as he did. But it was quite different with the cat. One moment she seemed as friendly as possible with Schnurri, and rubbed up against him and was playful and kind; especially if any one of the family was looking; then suddenly, without warning, she would raise her little paw and give him a sharp scratch behind the ear. Then he growled of course, and as this behavior of Philomele's was very frequent, it followed that he seemed to be constantly growling. So he got his name of Schnurri, though really quite unjustly, for by nature he was most friendly and peaceable.
The first thing needed for the ark-voyage was water. Lili knew how the water was brought into the wash-house when the clothes were ready for the wash. There was a spring just opposite, with a log through which the water flowed freely; and when they wanted to fill the tubs, they placed a long wooden spout under the log, and let the water run through. That was simple enough. Now Lili thought that if she could arrange the spout, so as to lead the water to the floor of the wash-house, it would soon make a pond, on which the tub-ark would float, all ready for the voyage. How to get the long spout in place; that was the question.
The children debated for a while whether to ask Battiste or Trine to help them carry out their plan. Between old Battiste and young Trine, there were very much the same relations as between Schnurri and Philomele. The man had been a servant in the Birkenfeld family for many years, and his knowledge of all departments of work, in house and stable and farm caused him to be consulted on every occasion. It must be confessed that Trine was rather jealous of Battiste's influence, because though she had not been very long in Mr. Birkenfeld's service herself, she had an aunt who had lived in the family many years; indeed until she grew too old to work. When this aunt had to give up, Trine had succeeded to her place; and so it was that she felt that she had long established rights in the house, and that Battiste took more upon himself than was quite fair. When any of the family were about, she was very civil to her fellow servant, but behind their backs she gave many a saucy word, and played tricks upon him now and then. Just the dog and cat again!
The children understood pretty well how things stood between the two, and profited by their petty quarrels and jealousy. Wili and Lili really would rather have asked Trine than Battiste, for they had more hope of getting what they wanted from her, as she took new ideas more readily than the man, who did not like to be put out of his usual ways. But unluckily, what they wanted was under Battiste's charge. So it was settled that Lili should ask him to help them, while Wili held on to the cat and dog, lest they should run away.
Battiste was out on the barn floor, arranging a collection of seeds. Here Lili found him, and she planted herself before him with her hands behind her back, just as she had seen her papa stand, when giving orders.
"Battiste," she said very firmly, "where is the spout that is used to fill the tubs in the wash-house?"
Battiste lifted his face from his seeds, and looked curiously at Lili as she stood there, as if he were waiting to hear the question again; for he always took things moderately. At last he replied with a question in his turn:
"Did your mamma send you to ask me?"
"No, I came of my own self."
"Then I don't know where the spout is."
"But, Battiste, I only want a little water from the spring; why can't I have just that?"
"I know that kind of a little bird," said Battiste, grumblingly, "now a little water, and now a little fire, and always mischief. Can't have it. Can't give it to you."
"Oh well, I don't care," said Lili, and went straight to the kitchen, where Trine was scouring pans.
"Trine, dear," said she coaxingly, "come and give me the water-spout. Battiste won't let us have it. You'll get it for us, won't you?"
"Of course I will," said the maid, "a little water you might be allowed, I'm sure. But you must wait till the old bear is out of the way; and then I'll go and get you what you want."
After a while Trine saw Battiste coming from the barn; he went past the house, down toward the meadows.
"Come along now," she said, and taking Lili's hand, she ran with her to the wash-house, lifted the long wooden spout from its hiding-place, put one end into the log, and the other into a small tub. Then she explained to Lili that when they had enough water, they could push the spout away from the log, and when they wanted it again, they could lift it up and put it into the log themselves. But now she must go back to her work.
Away went Trine, and now the preparations for the voyage could begin. The children took the lower end of the spout out of the tub, and put it down upon the floor. Lili got into the new ark, and then Wili, and then they lifted in the cat and the dog. Noah and his wife sat side by side, and rejoiced over their safety and over the delightful voyage they should make on the rising waters of the flood, as the stream from the spout flowed merrily in upon the wash-house floor. The water rose very fast. Now, yes, now the ark fairly floated, and Noah and his wife shouted for joy! The flood had begun, and they were floating backward and forth upon the surface of the water!
The wash-house floor was lower by several steps than the level of the ground outside. The water rose and rose, and the children began to be frightened.
"Look, Wili, we can't get out again, and it is getting very deep."
Wili gazed thoughtfully over the edge of the tub, and said, "If it gets much deeper we shall be drowned."
And it went on getting deeper and deeper.
Pretty soon Schnurri grew restless, and sprang up, making the tub roll so frightfully as almost to upset it. The water was now so deep that the children could not get out without danger, and they became dreadfully frightened, and began to cry out as loud as they could,
"We are drowning! Mamma! Battiste! Trine! We are drowning!" Then they no longer used any words, but simply screamed, quite beside themselves with terror. Schnurri barked and howled in sympathy, but Philomele scratched and bit at everything within reach. Now the true character of the two animals showed itself. The cat would not go out of the tub into the water, and would not stay quietly in it, either, but fought like a mad creature. But when the faithful dog found that, in spite of all the screams and howls, no one came to their aid, he jumped into the water, swam to the door, shook himself vigorously, and ran away. The children screamed louder than ever, for the dog's movements had made the tub tip back and forth, and they were well scared.
Dora had run down from her room, and was peeping through her opening in the hedge, to try to find out the cause of these terrible cries. The wash-house stood quite near the hedge, but she could not see anything except the logs that carried the water to it from the spring. She heard the cry "We are drowning!" and she ran back up-stairs, calling out, breathless with fright,
"Aunt, aunt! two children are drowning over there! don't you hear them call?"
Her aunt had closed all the windows, but the screams penetrated even to her ears.
"Oh dear, what can that be?" she exclaimed, in the greatest alarm. "I hear a terrible cry; but who says they are drowning? Mrs. Kurd! Mrs. Kurd! Mrs. Kurd!"
Meantime, Schnurri, all dripping-wet, ran to the shed where Battiste was shaping bean-poles for the kitchen garden. The dog rushed at Battiste, barking furiously, seized him by the trousers, and tried to pull him along.
"Something is amiss," said the man to himself; and taking a long bean-pole on his shoulder, in case it should be needed, he followed Schnurri to the wash-house. By this time the whole family had assembled there--the mother, the governess, Julius, Paula, Rolf, Hunne, and last of all Trine; for the cries had reached every corner of house and garden. Battiste stretched his long pole across the water to the floating tub.
"Now, catch hold of that, and hold on tight, very tight," he said, and pulled the ark and its occupants towards dry land. Wili and Lili were as white as chalk from their long fright.
It was no time to question the children about this new mishap, for they were in no condition to talk about it; so the mother wisely took each by the hand, and led them to the seat under the apple-tree, to recover themselves. Julius followed with little Hunne, saying, "Oh Wili and Lili, you terrible twins, you will come to some dreadful end before long."
Old Battiste rolled up his trousers and stepped into the water in the wash-house, to pull out the stopper from the waste pipe so that the flood could subside from the land of Noah. Trine stood looking on. Battiste growled at her.
"You have no more sense than the seven-year-old babies! But that is the way things go!" for he had seen at once, who must have given them the water-spout. Trine did not think it best to reply at that moment, as she had been fairly caught in the wrong, but she secretly got her claws ready to scratch when her chance came--just like Philomele. When the little party under the apple-tree were somewhat tranquillized again, the cat came purring and rubbing herself fawningly about Lili's feet. The child only gave her an angry push, and turned to caress old Schnurri, who lay, still wet, on the ground near by; while Wili patted him affectionately, saying softly,
"You shall have all my supper to-night, old fellow."
"Mine too," said Lili, and they both understood now the real characters of the two pets.
Hunne sat looking thoughtfully at the rescued party, and at last accosted Jule, who was walking back and forth on the gravel path:
"Look here, Jule, what will the 'dreadful end' be like?"
"Oh it may be anything, Hunne. You see they have tried fire and water, and next they will pull the house down about our ears, I dare say. Then we shall lie under the ruins, and it will be all over with us."
"Shan't we be able to jump up quick, and get out of the way?" asked Hunne, anxiously.
"We may; unless the twins should be seized with their great idea in the middle of the night."
"You'll wake me up then Jule, won't you?" asked the little fellow pleadingly.
Mrs. Kurd had come running at the repeated summons of Aunt Ninette, just as Battiste had gone to save the patriarchs of the flood with his bean-pole; and when she reached her, the tumult was stilled.
"Did you hear that, Mrs. Kurd? It was frightful! Everything is quiet now, and I hope they are saved!"
"Oh yes, of course," said Mrs. Kurd, quite unconcernedly, "it is only the little ones. They are always crying out about something. There isn't really anything the matter."
"No; but children's cries are so shrill; I am shivering all over. How will my husband stand it? No; this settles it, Mrs. Kurd. We shall go away. This is the last drop."
With these words Mrs. Ehrenreich hurried into her husband's room to see how he had borne the shock. He was sitting at his table, with his ears stopped with cotton wool, and he did not hear his wife come in. He had stuffed his ears when the first cry came, and had therefore escaped the rest of the hubbub.
"Oh, that is very unhealthy, it is so heating for the head;" cried Aunt Ninette, much distressed. She pulled the wool from his ears, and announced that she should go directly after the church-service on the morrow, and ask the pastor where they could move to, since this place was unendurable.
This plan suited Uncle Titus as well as any other; all he wanted was quiet. Aunt Ninette, thinking over her plans, went back to her own room.
Dora stood waiting for her aunt in the passage-way. "Are we really going away, Aunt?" she asked anxiously.
"Yes, decidedly;" replied Mrs. Ehrenreich, "we shall move on Monday."
Poor little Dora! it was a sad trial to her, to have to go away without once having a chance to make the acquaintance of the other family; to go into the beautiful garden, to smell those delicious flowers, and to join the merry child-life that she had watched so closely, and yet from which she was so entirely separated. Her future seemed swallowed up in those stifling cotton shirts that were her fate in dull Karlsruhe. As she sat on the side of her little bed, that night, sadly cast down by these melancholy thoughts, she forgot the five friendly stars in the sky above. Yet there they were, sparkling as ever, as if they were trying to speak to their child and say, "Dora, Dora! have you quite forgotten your father's verses?"