Uncle Titus and His Visit to the Country by Johanna Spyri
Chapter VII. Long-Wished-For Happiness.
The next morning, Mrs. Birkenfeld went early to the widow's house, where she was most cordially received; for she as well as her friend Lili had been a favorite pupil of Mrs. Kurd's husband. What pleasure the ardent teacher had taken in these pupils, and what success he had had in teaching them! He had never been tired of talking about it, and his wife had never forgotten it.
Mrs. Birkenfeld was shown into the sitting-room, where Mrs. Kurd insisted on her taking a seat, saying that she had much to tell her, for she had not seen her before since she had had the strangers from Karlsruhe in her house. There was a great deal to say about them and especially about the accident of the day before. When the widow had talked herself out, Mrs. Birkenfeld asked if she could speak to the lady, and to the little girl who had been hurt.
Mrs. Kurd carried the message to Mrs. Ehrenreich, who came directly, followed by Dora, who wore a thick bandage upon her arm, and looked very pale and delicate. After the first greetings, Mrs. Birkenfeld took Dora's hand tenderly in her own, and inquired with sympathy about the wound. She then turned to Aunt Ninette and told her how deeply she regretted the accident, and inquired in a friendly way after her health and that of Mr. Ehrenreich. Aunt Ninette lost no time in giving her full particulars of her husband's illness; how he had sadly needed fresh country air, and how she had made inquiries for a quiet secluded spot, and had at last chosen this very place; how he had to keep the windows shut tight, because he could not bear the least sound when he was writing, and therefore he never got any fresh air after all; and how anxious she was all the time, lest the vertigo instead of being cured by his being here, should come on worse than ever.
"I am very sorry indeed, that Mr. Ehrenreich should suffer from my children's noise;" said Mrs. Birkenfeld, understanding at once the state of the case, "if Mr. Ehrenreich does not walk out at all, he certainly ought to have an unusually airy place to work in. I have an idea; quite at the farthest end of our garden, away from the house, and from the frequented part of the grounds, stands a cool summer house, with seats and a table. If Mr. Ehrenreich would use that for his study, I would direct the children to keep entirely away from that part of the garden."
Aunt Ninette was delighted with this proposal; she said she would suggest it to her husband, and she was sure that he would accept it with many thanks.
"And you, my dear little girl, I hope your Aunt will allow you to come to see us to-day and every day. You shall get well in our garden; my children have much to make up to you for."
"Can I really go into that beautiful garden where the children are?" asked little Dora, who could scarcely believe in her good fortune; and such a look of gladness shot from her eyes at the thought, that her aunt looked at her with surprise, for she had never seen an expression like that in them before. This beam of delight that transfigured the child's face, spoke so directly to Mrs. Birkenfeld's heart, that tears came to her eyes, and she loved the child from that moment. She did not know why or wherefore; yet these joyfully-beaming eyes had stirred a whole world of slumbering recollections in her heart.
It was arranged that directly after dinner Dora should go over into the garden, and stay there till late in the evening. Thereupon Mrs. Birkenfeld took her leave.
Aunt Ninette hastened at once to her husband's study, and laid the new plan before him. Uncle Titus received it with pleasure, for although the want of fresh air was becoming very trying to him, yet taking a walk for air and exercise was something he had never been accustomed to, and he could not make up his mind to the loss of so much valuable time. The offer was therefore very seasonable. He even proposed to go to the summer-house directly, and his wife accompanied him. They took the longest way, round the outside of the garden, so as to avoid meeting any one. At the farthest end they came to a little garden-gate which led directly to the secluded summer-house. Close to the little house were two old nut-trees and a weeping willow, with thick pendent branches, and behind, far away into the distance, stretched the soft green meadows. Far and near, all was perfectly still. Uncle Titus had brought several thick books with him, under each arm, for he thought he should like to take possession at once, if he found it to his mind. Aunt Ninette carried the inkstand and paper, and Dora brought up the rear, with cigars and the wax-taper.
Mr. Ehrenreich was well pleased with the place; he settled himself at once, took his seat at the table, drew in a long breath of the pure air which blew in through the open doors and windows, and softly rubbed his hands with satisfaction. He began to write directly, and Aunt Ninette and Dora withdrew, and left him alone to his work.
By this time the news of the twins' exploit of yesterday, had spread through the house. For when Rolf returned from his morning lessons, he went straight for his bow, and of course discovered at once the loss of one arrow. Very much incensed, he ran about the house to find out who had been meddling with his property. He had little trouble in discovering the offenders, for the twins were so broken down by the suffering they had been through, that they confessed at once, and told him the whole story, including their horror at the cry of pain, and adding that their mother had now gone to the cottage, to inquire who had been hit. Then they showed Rolf where they had fired the arrow through the hedge, and to be sure there it was, lying on the ground, in Mrs. Kurd's garden. The recovery of his treasure put Rolf again in good-humor. He rushed back to the house, calling out, "Jule, Paula, did you know that the twins shot a child yesterday?" And so it came about that all six of the children, and Miss Hanenwinkel, besides, stood on the stone steps, on tip-toe with excitement, awaiting the mother's return from the cottage. The moment she appeared, Hunne called out, "Where was it hit?" and then each one asked a different question, and all at once:
"Is it a child?" "Is it a boy?" "How big is it?" "What is its name?" "Is it much hurt?"
"Come into the house, first," said the mother, turning a deaf ear to the shower of questions; and when they were clustered about her in the house, she told them about the pale, delicate little maiden, with a bandage upon her arm, so tight that she could scarcely use it. She said that the child was apparently about Paula's age; that she spoke excellent German, and looked very nice and well-bred; that her name was Dora, and last of all, that she was to come into the garden after dinner, and then they could make her acquaintance. All was now curiosity and excitement; how did the child look--what would she say? And each began to speculate what his own particular relation would be to the new-comer.
Paula stood still in intense delight; and only said, "Oh, if she is so nice, and just my age, too, mamma, how happy I shall be!" She had visions of a great, indissoluble friendship, and she could hardly wait till afternoon. Rolf was sure that Dora was just the right age to guess his charades, and that he should make friends with her at once on that ground. The twins had a feeling that Dora belonged especially to them, because they had shot her; and they thought she would be the very one to help them in carrying out their schemes; for they often needed a third person, and Paula was never in the mood.
"Well, I am glad that Dora is coming," said Hunne, "for I can go to her Saturdays, when all the chairs are standing on their heads, and no one else will have me."
Last of all Jule asked, "Hunne, I want to get some good out of Dora, too, what shall it be?"
"I know," said the child, after thinking awhile, "she can help you get off your riding-boots--you know there weren't enough of us, last time."
"The very thing," said Jule, laughing.
Dora was also greatly excited--she fairly trembled. One moment she did not know what to do for joy that the longed-for happiness had come, and she was to go into the garden, among the lovely, sweet-smelling flowers, and all those merry children. But the next moment she was afraid. She had watched the children from a distance, and she knew them all by sight; she already felt partly acquainted with them, and each one had excited an individual interest in her mind. But they had not even seen her, at all; she was a perfectly strange child to them. And then she said to herself with real distress, that she was so ignorant and awkward, and they knew so much, and were so clever, that they would certainly despise her, and would want to have nothing to do with her. She kept running it all over and over in her mind during dinner, and could scarcely eat a mouthful, in her excitement. Before she knew it, the time had come, and her aunt said,
"Now, Dora, you can go!"
So Dora put on her hat and went over to the next house. She went in at the front door, and passed through the long entry, at the other end of which the door into the garden stood open. Going out of this door she found herself in full view of the whole family. Directly in front of her, under the apple-tree, sat Mr. and Mrs. Birkenfeld, and round about them were the six children. Her timidity came back again, at seeing the parents, for she had expected to see only the children. She stood hesitating, and glanced shyly at the company. Little Hunne caught sight of her, and slipping down from his seat, ran toward her with outstretched arms, crying out,
"Come, Dora, there is room here on my seat; Come!" and seizing her hand, he pulled her along toward the others, who all came eagerly to meet her, and welcomed her as cordially as if she were an old friend. So, occupied with questions and greetings, she came to where the parents sat, and they were so friendly and kind, that all her shyness passed away, and she was soon sitting on the same seat with Hunne, in the midst of the circle, as much at home as if she belonged there.
Mr. and Mrs. Birkenfeld soon left their seats and walked up and down the garden; and then the children pressed round Dora, and each had some particular thing to say to her. Paula spoke least; but she looked at the new acquaintance, as if she were making a study of her. Rolf, Wili and Lili stood as near Dora as they could squeeze, to make her hear what they were saying, and Hunne kept fast hold of her, as if afraid that she would vanish away.
"If you squeeze Dora to death the first time she makes us a visit, she will not come a second time;" remarked Julius, who sat stretched out at full length on a garden-bench; "so take my advice, and give her room to breathe."
"How old are you, Dora? Not much older than I am?" asked Lili eagerly.
"I am just twelve."
"Oh, what a shame! then you are as old as Paula;" said Lili regretfully, who had hoped that Dora would belong to her in every respect, even in age.
"No, no," cried Rolf, "Dora is my age; at least nearer mine than Paula's, if she is only just twelve."
Rolf thought this opened a favorable prospect for special companionship. "Are you good at guessing riddles? And are you fond of them?"
"Yes, yes, and I have made a riddle;" cried Hunne, putting in his oar, "Now guess mine, Dora. My first you can eat but not drink"--
Rolf cut the little boy's charade ruthlessly in two with,
"Oh, get away with your old riddle, Hunne; it is no riddle at all! Now listen, Dora;
"My first conceals from light of day--" But Rolf was not destined to finish his verses, for Lili had seized Dora's hand and was pulling her with all her might, saying,
"Come, Dora, I will play you everything I know." Dora had asked her if she was the one who played on the piano, and Lili thought this a good excuse for stealing the new friend for herself. Lili had her way, for Dora really wanted to hear the piano, though she did not like to disappoint Rolf.
"You must not take it amiss," she said, turning back to speak to him, as Lili drew her away, "I am not good at guessing, and I should only bother you with my stupidity."
"Won't you try just one?" asked Rolf, rather disappointed.
"Oh, yes, if you want me to. I will try bye and bye," she called back, for Lili was fairly dragging her towards the house. Hunne had not let go his hold of Dora, and was pulled along too. He kept calling out, "Mine too, guess mine too," and she promised that she would do her best. Wili also went with them, and all four betook themselves to the school-room where the piano stood. The twins had been taking music lessons from Miss Hanenwinkel for more than a year, not so much because their parents cared about having them learn to play on the piano, as because they thought the lessons would be a pleasant occupation, and the music would have a soothing effect on the children's somewhat restless dispositions; and moreover, last but by no means least, the twins could not be up to any mischievous pranks, while they were busy practising.
Now that they stood before the piano, Lili's ardor for playing it somewhat cooled, and she reverted to her usual point of view with regard to it.
"You know, Dora, of course," she said, "that playing on the piano is the most tedious thing in the world. Why, when I have to practise, I get perfectly tired to death, don't you, Wili?" Wili assented emphatically.
"How can you feel so?" asked Dora, casting a longing look at the piano, "Oh, if I could only sit down there and play as you do, Lili, I should be perfectly happy."
"Do you really think so?" said Lili, struck with the expression of Dora's eyes. She opened the piano quickly, and began to play a little melody. Dora sat by, thirstily drinking in the sounds, and looking as charmed as if Lili were conferring some substantial benefit upon her. The sight of her pleasure was very inspiriting to Lili, who kept on playing better and better, and when Wili saw the impression produced, he wanted to take his share.
"Now let me play, Lili," he said, as she came to the end; but Lili was now quite in the spirit of it, and did not stop for an instant, but began to repeat the piece from the beginning.
"Do you know any other tune?" asked Dora.
"No; Miss Hanenwinkel will not teach me another till I have learned my exercises better; but I know what I will do, Dora, just wait till to-morrow, and then I will give you music lessons, and we will learn ever so many tunes. Should you like that?"
"Will you really?" asked Dora, and she looked so overjoyed at the bare idea, that Lili at once decided to begin the lessons on the very next day.
"But my arm!" exclaimed Dora. They had forgotten that. But Lili did not give up her plans so easily.
"Oh, your arm will soon be better," she said, "and meantime I will learn ever so many pieces, and be all the more able to teach you."
At this moment the big bell rang for supper. Hunne grasped Dora's hand, declaring that there was no time to lose, for his father always came punctually to his meals, and Hunne liked to do the same. The table was spread under the apple-tree, and covered with a great variety of good things. As she sat there looking about at these new acquaintances who already seemed like old friends, Dora felt as if she were dreaming; it was so much more delightful even than she had hoped; and she was almost afraid that she should wake up all at once, and find it only a dream. But she did not wake up, except to find that her plate had been loaded with good things, so very real, that all anxiety passed away, and she realized that she was living, and living remarkably well, into the bargain.
"Do eat your cake, or you will be the last to get through," said Hunne, "see, Dora, Jule and I have eaten four. Jule and I can do a great many things; only we can't pull the riding-boots off very well. You'll help about that, won't you, Dora?" "Eat your cakes, and be quiet, Hunne," said Jule, in a warning tone; and Dora did not answer about the boots, for Mr. Birkenfeld was asking her questions, and she began to tell him about her father, and of their life together in Hamburg and Karlsruhe.
Up to this time, Paula had not made any attempt to talk with Dora; but when supper was over, she came up to her, and said, softly,
"Will you come with me a little while now?"
Dora was delighted with the invitation, for she had begun to be afraid that Paula did not mean to have anything to say to her, and yet she had been particularly attracted toward this quiet girl, so near her own age. Paula had wanted to see what sort of a girl Dora was, before she made advances, and she was evidently well pleased with what she saw, for she now took her new friend by the hand, and led her away down the garden path. The twins and Hunne, and even Rolf, were soon tired of waiting for Dora to come back, and went calling and searching everywhere for her; but they could not find her; she had quite disappeared. In fact, Paula had taken her all round the garden, and then up to her own room. There the two girls sat and talked, and talked, about all sorts of things. They told each other their thoughts and feelings on various subjects, and found themselves in perfect sympathy. It was a great happiness to both, for neither had ever had an intimate friend, of her own age, one whose tastes, purposes and ideals were like her own.
"Now we will be 'best friends' forever," they said, and sat, forgetful of all the world besides, till the stars stood shining in the heavens above, and all the earth was bathed in shadow.
The mother found them at last; she had suspected that they had taken refuge in Paula's room. Dora sprang up hastily when she noticed how dark it had grown, and recollected that her aunt would be expecting her. The other children were waiting below, rather a dissatisfied little party at Dora's disappearance; for they all wanted to talk to her. Rolf was particularly annoyed.
"Why Dora," he said, "I thought you were going to guess my charade; will you try now?"
But Dora said it was really time for her to go home; so Mrs. Birkenfeld told them that they must wait till to-morrow for all they had to say, and that Dora would come every day to see them and would take lessons with them too. This satisfied them, and they charged Dora to come very early and stay very late, for there was a great deal to do and a great deal to show her. The leave taking lasted a long time, but Rolf suddenly cut the thing short.
He was going to have the last word with Dora, for he was to walk home with her. As they crossed the grass plot towards the cottage, the stars were shining so brightly overhead, that Dora stood still.
"Look up, Rolf;" she said, "do you see those five twinkling stars up there? I know them very well; they were my own stars in Karlsruhe, and they are here with me too."
"Oh yes, I've seen those; they are on our map of the Heavens. Do you know their names, Dora?"
"No, indeed; can you tell the names of the stars Rolf? How much you do know!" said Dora admiringly. "Don't those five all belong together, and have one name? There are others too that look as if they belonged together. Do you know them all? How I should like to learn them from you!"
Rolf was much pleased with the idea of giving lessons in astronomy, to one so eager to learn.
"Let us begin now," said he enthusiastically; "I will tell them all to you one after another, even if it takes till midnight."
This reminded Dora how late it was.
"No, Rolf" she said quickly, "thank you very much, but no more to-night. To-morrow; will you tell me to-morrow?"
"Well, to-morrow then, Dora, don't forget. Good-night."
"Good-night, Rolf;" and Dora hurried into the house. She was so brimming over with happiness and the many pleasures of the day, that she sprang up-stairs to Aunt Ninette, and began to tell her everything all mixed up together, with such astonishing vivacity, that her aunt drew back rather startled.
"Dora! Dora! think a minute! this excitement may go to your arm! Go to sleep as quick as you can; that is the best thing you can do."
Dora went to her bed-room, but sleep was impossible. She knelt down at her bed-side and gave heart-felt thanks to God for sending her all this happiness; she resolved that when these holidays were over she would go back to her work again without complaint; no matter how long the hours might be, and she would never forget these happy days that the good God had sent her now. It was long before she could close her eyes for very bliss.