Uncle Titus and His Visit to the Country by Johanna Spyri
Chapter VIII. More Charades.
Early the next day, as Julius was clattering along the passage with his big riding-boots and spurs, he heard the sounds of practising in the school-room, and knowing that Miss Hanenwinkel did not give lessons at this hour, he pushed open the door to see what was going on. There sat Lili at the piano, and Wili stood by, looking as if he were impatiently counting every minute till he could have his turn.
"What are you two about?" he called out, "is this the beginning of some mischievous prank?"
"Be quiet, Jule, we haven't a minute to lose," said Lili seriously. Jule laughed aloud and went on his way. Going down stairs, he met Miss Hanenwinkel.
"What has got into the twins now?" he asked. "Have they taken the notion of being virtuous, into their small noddles?"
"That is more likely at seven than at seventeen;" was all the answer he got.
He went on down stairs still laughing, and just at the front door met his mother. She was starting at that early hour to try to see the doctor before he went from home, to ask him exactly the state of Dora's arm, and whether there was any danger for the child. Aunt Ninette's anxiety had infected her, and she could not rest until she knew the probabilities of the case.
"Do I hear some one playing on the piano, Jule?" she asked. "It is an unusual sound for this time of day."
"Mother dear, I do believe that the end of the world is coming," replied Julius;
"Lili is up there hurrying from one finger-exercise to another as if she could not get enough of that exquisite amusement, and Wili is seated at her side in a similar condition of nervous industry, waiting for his turn at the piano."
"A strange state of things, to be sure, Jule," said his mother; "for it was only yesterday that Miss Hanenwinkel was complaining to me that Lili did not show the slightest interest in her music, and that she would not even play her piece, much less her exercises."
"It's just as I said; the end of the world is coming," said Jule, turning towards the stable.
"Let us hope rather the beginning," replied Mrs. Birkenfeld, starting in the other direction to go down the hill towards the village. When she reached the doctor's house, she was so fortunate as to find him at home, and she asked him the question that so greatly disquieted her. He assured her that the wound was doing perfectly well, and that there was not the slightest danger of any permanent stiffness of the arm; though he laughingly owned that he had made the worst of it to Dora, in order to impress her with caution for the future. It would be all over in a day or two at farthest. Mrs. Birkenfeld was much relieved, for besides her sympathy for Dora, she had felt keenly her children's responsibility for the misfortune.
On her way home Mrs. Birkenfeld stopped to speak to Aunt Ninette; not only to carry her the doctor's favorable verdict, but also to talk with her about Dora. She now learned for the first time, that Dora was to earn her living by sewing; and that for this reason her aunt felt obliged to keep her so closely to her shirt-making.
Mrs. Birkenfeld took a warm interest in Dora. She thought the little girl very delicate for such heavy work, and she was glad that there was still some time left for her to grow stronger before she had to go back to Karlsruhe, and settle down to regular work again. She begged Aunt Ninette to let the child, during the rest of their stay, give up the sewing entirely, and she offered to let her own seamstress make the shirts, that Dora might be free to amuse herself with the children, and gain strength by play in the open air.
The self-possessed, quiet manner of Mrs. Birkenfeld had an excellent effect on Mrs. Ehrenreich, and she acquiesced in this proposal without the slightest demur. Indeed the path of the future, that had looked so beset with difficulties, seemed now to lie smooth before her, and all her prospects were brightened. She spoke with great thankfulness on her husband's account; for he already found himself so improved by the fresh air and quiet of the summer house, and he was so thoroughly comfortable and contented there, that he could hardly bear to leave it, even to come in at night.
When Mrs. Birkenfeld rose to go, she cordially invited Aunt Ninette to come often to see her in the garden, saying that she must find it lonely in the cottage, and that the open air would be good for her also. Aunt Ninette was much gratified by this courtesy, and accepted it with pleasure; quite forgetting the noise of the children, which had been so great a bugbear to her.
Dora had sprung out of bed that morning as soon as she opened her eyes, for the thought of the pleasure before her made her heart dance for joy. She had to curb her impatience however for a time, for Mrs. Ehrenreich did not approve of imposing upon people who were inclined to be neighborly. It was not till Mrs. Birkenfeld had come over to the cottage, and after talking some time with the aunt had asked after Dora and repeated her invitation, that the little girl was allowed to go. This time she did not stand still and look shyly about; with a few springing steps she reached the house, and at the door of the sitting-room she was received with a chorus of welcoming voices; while Wili and Lili and little Hunne and Paula all ran out to meet her, and draw her in among them. Julius, just returned from his ride, had thrown himself as usual into an arm-chair, stretching out his legs, as an intimation that he should like to have his boots pulled off. Dora ran forward and offered her services, frankly desirous of making herself useful. But Jule instantly drew in his long legs.
"No, no, Dora; not for the world; what are you thinking about?" he cried, jumping up and very politely offering Dora his chair. Before she could take it, the twins pulled her away; saying "Come with us!" and Hunne tugged at her dress behind, calling loud, "Come with me!" while Paula reaching over him, whispered softly in her ear, "Go first with the twins; or they will keep this up all day; bye and bye I will come to you, and then we can have some comfort together."
"Dora," said Jule, waving off the three noisy creatures, "I advise you to stay by me; it is your only hope of a happy existence in this house-hold; for I can tell you if you go with Paula, you will grow too romantic; you will scarcely breathe the fresh air, and will lose your appetite completely. If you take Rolf for your companion, your whole existence will become one great perpetual riddle."
"That it will be at any rate," remarked Miss Hanenwinkel, who was passing through the room at that moment.
"If you prefer to go with Miss Hanenwinkel," said Jule quickly, so that the governess might be sure to hear what he said; "you will be preserved in salt; quite the opposite you see to plums, which are done in sugar! If your choice falls on the twins, you will be torn in two, and as to little Hunne; if you go with him he will talk you deaf!"
In spite of this melancholy prediction, Dora allowed herself to be carried off by the twins, and Hunne ran after them. When they reached the piano, Lili began to play her one piece, and when she came to the end, she glanced at Dora who nodded so pleasantly that Lili, thus encouraged, began again at the beginning. Presently Dora began to sing the words; Wili, who was waiting in vain for his chance to play, joined her; then Hunne too; so that a loud chorus rang out cheerily from the school-room--
"Live your life merrily While the lamp glows; Ere it can fade and die, Gather the rose."
They were so carried away by their own music that the voices rose louder and louder, and Hunne's out-screamed them all. Presently Lili twirled round on her stool, and said, her eyes shining with joyful expectation:
"Just wait till to-morrow, Dora, and then you'll see!" for the child had worked so diligently at her exercises that morning that she felt that she had a right to claim at least half a dozen new pieces from Miss Hanenwinkel to-morrow.
At this moment the bell rang for the twins to go to their lessons; a sound that Hunne was well-pleased to hear, for now he could have Dora to himself till dinner-time; and the little girl gave herself up to him so cheerfully and with such warm interest in the artistic performances of his nut-cracker, that he made a firm resolution then and there never to let her go again. But no sooner was dinner over, than his plan was completely upset. Paula had finished her French lessons, and with her mother's leave, she now took possession of Dora. As for Dora, she asked nothing better; she would have been glad to spend whole days and nights talking with Paula, telling all the secrets of her heart, and hearing in return all her friend's thoughts and wishes, hopes and fears. They both felt sure that they could never be tired of being together, and of sharing each other's memories of the past and plans for the future. A long life-time would not be enough for them. It was seven o'clock before they again joined the family group which was gathered under the apple-tree; and being late they slipped into their places very quickly, for the father had begun to cough significantly, to show that things were not just as they should be. During the meal, Rolf cast meaning looks across to Dora, that seemed to say,
"We two have a plan together next; don't forget!"
While they all sat chatting merrily after supper was over, Rolf was watching the sky, to see when the first pale star should peep through the twilight amid the twigs of the apple-tree; and as soon as he spied one, he came to Dora, saying
"Now, Dora, look, up there!" and he carried her off to the very farthest corner of the garden, to make sure that none of his brothers or sisters should interfere with them. He felt quite securely hidden under protecting nut-trees, and placing himself in the right position, he began his lesson.
"Do you see, there, your five stars--one two three, and then two more. Do you see them distinctly?"
"Oh yes; I know them so well, so well," said Dora.
"Well, that constellation is Cassiopeia. And now just wait a moment, Dora. I've just thought of a riddle that is very appropriate. You can guess it easily, if you try."
"I will if I can, but I am afraid your riddles are too hard for me:"
"My first's a most delicious drink, But best of all when fresh, I think. Add then my second, and you make An adjective, small pains to take! My third must strait and narrow prove Or 'twill not lead to heaven above. Now for my whole--a countless host In which each separate light is lost.
"Have you guessed it, Dora?"
"No, and I'm sure I cannot guess it. I am terribly dull at such things. I am sorry; for it makes it stupid for you, but I can't help it," said Dora dolefully.
"Of course you can't help it now, because you are not used to them," said the boy consolingly. "I will give you an easier one to begin with:
"For full enjoyment of our youth My first is needful as the truth, And at man's very farthest end My second comes--and now attend, Master of Greek Philosophy My whole, its shining crown you see."
"I cannot, I cannot, you are only losing time and trouble, Rolf, I do not know the least bit about Greek things," said Dora sighing.
"Never mind, I will try another country; how is this?" and before Dora could protest, the indefatigable riddle-maker declaimed:
"My fickle first is said to be England's high-road of industry; But Germany denies the same And with a Key she makes her claim. In Russia, nihilistic power Threatens my second, every hour. But Rome, Imperial Rome, to you, My whole was pride and terror too!"
"That's true!" It was a deep voice that echoed in the surrounding darkness, and the startled children clung to each other for a moment in terror. Then Dora began to laugh.
"It is Uncle Titus," she said, "he is sitting there in the summer-house. Come, Rolf, let us go in and see him."
Rolf assented; and they found Uncle Titus sitting there with his chair tipped back against the wall, looking very much pleased to see them. Rolf returned his greeting very cordially, and inquired quite casually whether he had guessed the riddle.
"I think it must be 'Caesar,' is it not, my son?" said Uncle Titus tapping the lad kindly on the shoulder.
"Yes, that's right; and did you hear the others I was saying, and did you guess them?"
"Possibly, possibly, my son," replied the good man. "I am much mistaken if the first is not 'Milky-way,' and the second, 'Plato.'"
"Both right!" cried Rolf, highly delighted. "It is the greatest fun to make riddles and have them guessed so quickly. I have another, and another, and one more. May I give you another, Mr. Ehrenreich?"
"Certainly, my dear boy, why not? out with them, all three, and we will try to guess them all."
Rolf was enchanted, and set about recalling them. "I will take the shortest first," he said:
"My first implies strength and grace; In all things my second finds place; My whole was the scourge of the race."
"Have you guessed that?"
"Very likely, very likely, my son; now the next:"
"Take all that the senses attest Add the sign of the beast for the rest, And my glorious whole stands confessed."
"And now another," said Uncle Titus, nodding.
"And now I have a very long one, and rather harder," said the lad:
"A thrill through all the nations ran, When he, my whole, the grand old man, Spoke words that e'en my second turn My first, with hopes that glow and burn. But now are hearts to anger spurred; Nations are sick with hope deferred, Alas! small chance for Ireland we know! My first my second at my whole we throw."
Rolf stopped, quite excited with the declamation of his favorite charade.
"Now we will begin to guess, my son," said Uncle Titus, with a pleased expression: "First, Bonaparte. Second, Matterhorn. Third, Gladstone."
"Every one right!" cried Rolf, exultantly. "This is splendid! I have always wanted to do this with my riddles; that is, find some one who could guess them all. Before this, I've always had a heap of unguessed riddles. Now they are all guessed, and I can begin again with a new set!" Rolf was full of satisfaction.
"I will make you a proposal, my son," said Uncle Titus, as he rose from his seat, and prepared to return to the cottage; "Come to me here every evening, and bring me the fresh set. Who knows but that I may have a few to give you in return?"
By this time it was rather too late for the study of the stars, and that had to be postponed; so Dora and Rolf returned to the rest of the family; Rolf quite overjoyed with the pleasant interview he had had, and with the prospect of its repetition; while on his side Uncle Titus wended his way to the cottage, filled with quiet satisfaction at the thought of his new friend; for he had always wanted a son, a twelve year old son, who should have left behind the noise and follies of childhood, and have become old enough to be an intelligent and agreeable companion. Now Rolf fulfilled these conditions; and moreover displayed a decided predilection for Uncle Titus, who began to feel a most paternal interest spring up in his heart towards the lad. So gladly did he feel it, that as he strode through the garden, in the light of the shining, starry host, he broke out with,
"Live your life merrily While the lamp glows; Ere it can fade and die, Gather the rose."
For the tune was floating in his memory as he had heard it sung that morning by the fresh young voices, and out came the joyous notes under the peaceful heavens.
At the cottage window, Aunt Ninette stood looking out for her husband; and as she heard his voice singing this merry melody, it was with nothing short of amazement that she said to herself, "Can that be Uncle Titus?"