Uncle Titus and His Visit to the Country by Johanna Spyri
Chapter IX. "What Must Be, Must Be."
Time passed quickly at the two houses, in this new and happy companionship.
"Another week gone already!" and "Sunday again so soon!" were the exclamations heard on every side, as each week went by. And Dora was the happiest of all; the days fairly danced with her: they certainly had not more than half as many hours as they had had in Karlsruhe, and every evening she was sorry to have to go to bed, and lose in sleep so much of the little time that remained of her visit. If she could only have passed the whole night at the piano, practising while the others were sleeping, she thought she could have nothing more to desire. Her arm was now wholly healed, and she was taking music-lessons with a kind of furor; and in Lili she had a teacher whose zeal equaled her own. A most agreeable teacher too, who did not trouble her pupil with finger-exercises and scales, but gave her tunes at once without more ado; and first of course the favorite, "Live thy life merrily." Dora learned the air very quickly with the right hand, and Lili did not require her to learn the left hand yet; declaring that it was quite too difficult to play both together. All this playing-teacher was so improving to Lili, that she began to make wonderful progress herself, so that Miss Hanenwinkel was equally surprised and pleased at her improvement, and her mother often paused outside of the school-room door to listen to the firm but lively touch with which her little daughter rendered her studies; for Lili had really great talent for music, and now that a sufficient motive had been applied, she advanced rapidly.
Paula was in a state of tranquil blessedness all day long. She had found a friend, and such a friend! The reality of this friendship far surpassed her imagination and her hopes, for such a one as Dora she could not have conceived of; one who was so attractive not only to her, but to every member of the family. Like Dora, Paula grudged the hours passed in sleep, now that there were so few left that they could spend together.
Rolf had abandoned his old plan of charade-making, and had started on an entirely new system, and he spent his leisure hours striding up and down certain of the garden-walks, sunk in thought with his hands clasped behind his back, and so lost to outward things that Hunne was charged to keep away from these paths; for more than once he was almost run down by his brother. A new set of riddles was now ready every evening for Uncle Titus, who was always waiting for his young friend in the summer-house, prepared to guess, and showing remarkable skill in finding out even the most intricate puzzles; and as a natural result, Rolf grew more and more clever in making them. Before long, Uncle Titus began to give riddles himself in return, and his were carefully written out; for they required serious study, as they were in Latin. Rolf carried these home to his father and Jule, but they would not even try to guess them. Mr. Ehrenreich declared that his Latin was quite too rusty for such work as this, and Jule maintained that during vacation he did not dare to tax his brain unnecessarily; he needed all his wits for his serious work next term. So Rolf worked away by himself, dictionary in hand, and twisted and turned the words till he wrung out their meaning. Then he showed them with triumph to his father and brother, and in the evening carried them to Uncle Titus. The pleasure which his kind old friend took in his success spurred the boy on to greater activity. He studied not only the riddles themselves, but his Latin lessons more earnestly, and he took to early rising, and every morning before breakfast he worked with his Lexicon in the garden, as if his livelihood depended on the solution of Latin puzzles.
Hunne too was a lucky boy in these days, for no matter how often or how long he hung upon Dora, and claimed her as his own property, never once did the good-natured girl avoid or repulse her little friend; but always lent herself to his wishes, and took so much pains to amuse him, that it seemed as if she found her own pleasure in pleasing him. Mrs. Birkenfeld had persuaded Aunt Ninette to leave Dora entirely at liberty both morning and evening, and when in the afternoon she took her sewing and sat with the family under the apple-tree, she found that even shirt-making might be an agreeable occupation, under such favorable circumstances as these.
One day Dora made a new riddle for Hunne; for indeed his "nut-cracker" one had become rather an old story; yet he couldn't bear to give up riddle-giving. To his unspeakable joy this new riddle had a triumphant experience, quite unprecedented in the family annals--no one could guess it. This time nobody could turn him off with, "Oh, go away with that same old charade." For as no one knew the answer, no one could laugh at the little questioner, and he and Dora agreed not to give the slightest hint that might lead to the right guess, and so put an end to this delightful state of things.
The riddle was this:
"My first makes you cry--not for sorrow, For my second a spoon you may borrow, To my whole, you say, 'thank you--to-morrow.'"
What could it be? Julius said it was "Hot-tea, because if the tea is very hot and you try to drink it, the tears start to your eyes, and then you cool it with a spoon, and you would like to let it stand till to-morrow."
Hunne jumped for joy, crying "Wrong, wrong!"
Miss Hanenwinkel suggested "Plum-jam," because Hunne often cried when he couldn't have plums, and everybody ate jam with a spoon, and if plum-jam was not on the supper-table to-night, it was sure to be, to-morrow.
"Wrong! wrong!" cried Hunne again.
"Well, I guess Tear-ful," said Rolf; but that was even worse than the others.
"I think it may be Snow-drop," said the mother. "The sight of the snow makes you cry for joy, and a spoon is used for your drops if you are ill, and you always want snowdrops to-morrow."
Mamma had failed! "Not Snowdrops; no!" screamed Hunne, almost beside himself with delight.
"I guess it is ice-cream," said Mr. Birkenfeld. "Ice makes me cry sometimes, it is so cold. Cream certainly needs a spoon, and I have often heard the cry, 'To-morrow please,' when ice-cream has been mentioned."
Hunne spun round with delight. "No, no!" he shouted. It was almost too good to be true, that his father should have missed it too. He scampered about crying out to everyone, "Guess! guess!"
Rolf was really vexed not to be able to see through this simple little "Hunne riddle" as he called it; and was mortified to perceive that he had made a worse guess than any one.
Meantime the days were passing. One morning at breakfast Uncle Titus said,
"My dear Ninette, our last week is drawing near. What should you say if we put off going home, another fortnight? I feel remarkably well here, no dizziness at all, and an extraordinary increase of strength in my legs!"
"You show it in your looks, my dear Titus--" said his wife tenderly, "you look ten years younger, at the very least, than when we came here."
"And to my mind, this way of living has done you a world of good too, my dear Ninette;" replied he, "It seems to me that you find much less to lament over of late."
"Everything is so different," she answered; "It seems to me that everything has changed. The noise of the children even doesn't seem the same, now that I know each one of them. I must say that I am very glad that we didn't leave here that first week; I feel the loss of something pleasant now when I do not hear the children's voices, and I am always a little uneasy if it is perfectly quiet in the garden."
"It is just so with me," said Uncle Titus, "and I cannot get through an evening with any satisfaction unless that bright boy has been in to see me, full of impatience to tell me what he has been about during the day, and eager to hear the enigmas I have to give him. It is a perfect pleasure to have such a young fellow about one."
"My dear Titus, you are growing younger every day. We will certainly stay longer," said Aunt Ninette decidedly, "just as long as we conveniently can. I'm sure even the doctor did not expect such good results from one country visit; it is almost miraculous!"
Dora lost no time in carrying the enchanting news of this decision to Paula, for in her inmost heart she had been very unhappy at the thought of going away so soon. How could she live, away from all this dear family with whom she had learned to feel so entirely at home? She thought that when the day of separation came her heart would surely break.
When the good news of Dora's longer stay among them spread through the family, there was general rejoicing, and the little girl was in danger of being fairly hugged to death by her friends.
That evening after the children were all safely in bed, and Miss Hanenwinkel had withdrawn to her own room, Mr. and Mrs. Birkenfeld sat together upon the sofa, talking. This was the only quiet time that they could count upon in the course of the day, when they could talk over the needs, the pleasures and the pains, of their large and busy family. They were talking now about the decision of their new friends, and Mrs. Birkenfeld expressed her great satisfaction with it, adding,
"I cannot bear to think of losing Dora. She has grown very dear to me. What a real blessing that child has been in the family! She leaves her mark wherever she goes, and always for good. Wherever I turn I find some new evidence of her beneficial influence. And to me personally she is particularly attractive; I can't understand exactly why, but whenever I look into her eyes, I feel as if I had known her for a long time, and as if we had been sympathetic friends in days gone by."
"Ah, my dear wife, how often I have heard you say that whenever you feel a particular friendship for any one. I recollect perfectly that after we had known each other a little while, you said it seemed to you as if we had been intimately acquainted some time before."
"Well, suppose I did, you most incorrigible tease," said his wife, "you cannot convince me to the contrary, nor can you take away the fact that Dora is dear and delightful, not only to me, but to all the family besides. Paula goes about beaming like the sunshine, and with no trace of her usual discontent. Jule pulls off his own riding-boots without stirring up the whole house about it; Rolf is so full of interest in his pursuits that he has not a moment of idleness all day long; Lili has developed a love for music and a talent for playing the piano, that we never dreamed she possessed; and little Hunne has become so gentle and so contented at his games, that it is a pleasure just to look at the child."
"I think too," said Mr. Birkenfeld, "that it is because of Dora's being with us, that there has been a cessation of those mischievous pranks that the twins were always at, and that kept the house in a constant state of excitement."
"I have not the least doubt of it;" said his wife, "Dora has aroused in Lili an enthusiasm for music, and all the child's lively energy is turned into that channel. Wili follows his sister's lead, and they are both therefore so busy that they have not even a thought for mischief."
"Dora is certainly an uncommon child and I am very sorry she is to leave us so soon;" said Mr. Birkenfeld regretfully.
"That is what is weighing upon my mind," said his wife, "I am constantly trying to devise some plan for prolonging her stay still farther."
"No, no;" said her husband, decidedly, "we can't do anything about that. We don't know these people well enough to try to influence their movements. They must go away now, but perhaps next year we may see them here again."
Mrs. Birkenfeld sighed; there was a long winter to come, and there seemed to her to be but little chance of the visit being repeated.
The day fixed for the departure was Monday, and on the day before there was to be a grand feast, a farewell festival; though to tell the truth, none of them felt much like making a jubilee. Rolf alone was in the mood, and he took charge of the preparations, as an important part of which, a number of choice riddles were to be hung about the summer-house as transparencies: in honor of his patron.
On Saturday Dora took her seat, as usual, with the family at dinner, but no one had any appetite; the coming separation was too much in their thoughts. As the mother was helping to soup, one after another exclaimed, "Very little for me," "Please only a little," "I really don't care for any to-day," "Scarcely any for me, thank you," "And less for me, to-day."
"I should like to ask--" said their father, amid this shower of "No, thank yous;" "I can't help wondering whether this 'thank you, to-morrow,' style of thing is caused by grief at parting, or by a general dislike for onion-soup."
"Onion-soup! onion-soup! that is the answer to Hunne's riddle!" cried Rolf with a cry of victory, for he had really taken it seriously to heart, that Hunne's charade had been so long unguessed. The answer was right. Poor Hunne was quite depressed at this unexpected blow, and in a moment he said somewhat pitifully,
"Oh dear! papa, if you had not said that about 'thank you, to-morrow,' for the soup, then no one would ever have found it out. Now I shall have no more fun with it."
But Dora had a comforting word for him, even now, and whispered softly, "Yes, Hunne dear, you shall have some more fun with it, for I will bring over my album this afternoon, and I will guide your hand while you write the charade in it, and then I will take it to Karlsruhe, and show it to all the people I know there, and they will all try to guess it."
So Hunne was comforted, and was able to finish his dinner happily. But under the apple-tree where they were assembled for the last time, the family were in very low spirits. For the next day Dora must stay with her aunt to help her, and could not join them until the evening, in time for the good-bye feast. Paula sat with her eyes full of tears, and did not speak one word. Lili had already given signs of her state of mind, by all sorts of restless movements, and at last she exclaimed,
"Mamma, I wish I never need touch the piano again; it will be terribly tiresome without Dora, and Miss Hanenwinkel will find fault again and say I am 'not progressing,' and I don't want to 'progress' when Dora is not here!"
"Oh dear!" sighed Jule, "what terrible days are before us, with danger to life and limb, when the twins begin again to find their time hang heavy on their hands. It is a very stupid arrangement anyway," he went on quite excitedly; "it would be far better for Dora to pass the winter with us. Her aunt and uncle could go on in their quiet way in Karlsruhe all the same without her."
The mother sympathized entirely in the children's regret at the separation and said she hoped to persuade Mr. Ehrenreich to bring his wife and Dora back for another summer.
Hunne was the only one more interested in the present than in the future, and he kept pulling Dora's dress and saying,
"Go get your book, Dora! get the book!"
So Dora went to get her album, and brought it over for each one of her friends, in the good old fashion, to write a verse or a motto in it, by way of remembrance. It was no new, elegant, gilded affair. It was an old book, faded and worn, and much of the writing in it was pale with age. Here and there had been pasted on, tiny bunches of flowers and leaves all of which had lost their color, and many of which had fallen off. The album had belonged to Dora's mother, and the verses were all written in unformed, childish characters. There were also some drawings, and among these one of a small house and a well, with a man standing near it, particularly attracted Hunne's attention, and he took the book in his own hands, and began turning the leaves.
"Hallo!" he exclaimed with a knowing look, as he took out a piece of paper that lay folded between the leaves; "Mamma has one like this; it belongs to Lili; the one I am going to America to find."
Julius laughed aloud. "What in the world are you chattering to Dora about now, Hunne?" But his mother glanced, quickly at the little boy as she caught his words, took the paper from his hand and read what was written there.
Great tears fell from her eyes as she read; the memory of long past hours of her happy childhood rose before her, clear and distinct, and almost overpowered her, Her own mother's face, and all the sights and sounds of childhood! It was the other half of her own poem that she held in her hand, the half that had been kept by her dearly loved friend. She gave it silently to her husband; she could not trust her voice to read it aloud.
The children watched her curiously as she took the other half from her notebook, and laid the two bits of yellow faded paper side by side. They made a sheet of the usual size of old-fashioned letter paper. The writing was the same on both, and as the lines were joined, their meaning became plain. Mr. Birkenfeld read the verses aloud:
"Lay your hand in mine dear, Joined thus we need not fear, Each the other clasping fast, That our union should not last, But behold, the fates decree That our future severed be. We will cut our verse in two, Half for me and half for you. But we still will hope forever That the halves may come together, And with no loss to deplore. Our friendship be as 'twas before."
The mother had taken Dora's hand in hers. "Where did you get this paper, Dora?" she asked, much moved.
"It has always been in my mother's album," replied the child with surprise.
"Then you are my Lili's child!" cried Mrs. Birkenfeld, "and that is what your eyes always said to me, when I looked into them;" and she folded Dora softly to her heart.
The children were intensely excited, but seeing how much moved their mother was, they restrained themselves, and sat very still, watching Dora and their mother with eager looks. But little Hunne broke the spell.
"Then I sha'n't have to go to America, shall I, mamma?" he said gaily, for since he had given his word to go to find the lost Lili, he had often thought with alarm of the long journey that he must take alone.
"No, dear child, we will all stay here together," said his mother, turning towards the children with Dora's hand fast in hers; "Dora is the Lili you were to seek, and we have found her."
"Oh, mamma," cried Paula, "Dora and I will be what you and her mother were; we will carry out the verses. We will say:
"'But we still will hope forever Now the halves have come together No farther losses to deplore, Our friendship prove as yours before.'"
"Oh yes, and ours," "me too," "so will I," and all the children joined in promising eternal friendship with Dora. But the mother had taken her husband's hand and had drawn him away down the shady walk.
"All right, I agree to it all," said Mr. Birkenfeld over and over again, as his wife talked eagerly, while they walked back and forth. Presently Mrs. Birkenfeld left him and crossed over to the next house. She asked for Mrs. Ehrenreich, and now as they sat together by the window, she told Aunt Ninette in words that came from her heart, with what delight she had discovered that Dora was the daughter of her earliest and dearest friend; that friend from whom she had been so long separated, but whose memory was still green in her heart. She wanted to learn all that could be told of her friend's life and death, but Aunt Ninette had little to tell. She had never known Dora's mother; her brother had spent several years in America where he had married, and his wife had died in Hamburg shortly after Dora's birth. That was all she knew. Then Mrs. Birkenfeld went directly to the point. She explained to Mrs. Ehrenreich how much she had enjoyed and profited by, her long visits at her friend's father's house, and how deeply she felt that she owed these kind friends a debt of gratitude which she now saw an opportunity partly to repay, by doing what she could for Dora. In short, if Aunt Ninette and her husband would consent, her most fervent wish would be to take Dora and bring her up as her own child.
She met with none of the opposition which she had feared. Aunt Ninette said frankly that Dora had not a cent of property, and that she would be entirely dependent on her own work as a seamstress; as neither her aunt nor her uncle could afford to spend anything on her farther education. She considered it a great blessing that the child should have found such a friend, and she heartily rejoiced in her good fortune; and was sure that her husband would fully agree with her. So there was nothing farther for Mrs. Birkenfeld to do, but to embrace Mrs. Ehrenreich most cordially, and then to hasten home to tell the children the happy news. She knew how they would take it.
There they were all under the apple-tree, all looking towards their mother and impatient for what she might have to tell them; hoping that it might be some plan for prolonging Dora's stay. But when the mother told them that from that day forward Dora was to belong to them, forever, as their sister and a child of the family, then a shout of joy arose that made the welkin ring again and awoke the echoes in the farthest corner of the garden. It aroused Uncle Titus and brought him from his distant summer-house with a gentle smile, saying half to himself and half aloud,
"It is a pity it will soon be over."
Aunt Ninette was standing at an open window, looking down into the garden, and as she heard the shouts of joy that rose again and again from under the apple-tree, she said to herself, smiling "How we shall miss all this cheerful noise when we are far away."
The children were indeed jubilant, and they decided to organize a feast in honor of Uncle Titus and Aunt Ninette, a feast more brilliant than any that had ever before made the shades of the garden glow with splendor.
That night Dora went up to her little room for the last time, for the next morning she was to move over to the other house. The happy family of children whom she had secretly watched with longing heart, were now to be her brothers and sisters; the lovely garden into which she had gazed with hopeless eyes was henceforth to be her home; she was to have parents who would surround her always with their protecting love. She was to learn what the others learned; yes, to have regular studies with them, as well as music-lessons. Dora's heart was flooded with the thoughts that welled up within her. One thing she was sure of; that her father was looking down at her, and rejoicing with her. She stood at the window and gazed up at the sparkling stars, and recalled the sad hours of depression that she had known, when these stars did not seem to bring her comfort, and when she had almost lost faith in that kind heavenly Father, who nevertheless had now brought all this happiness to her.
She fell on her knees and thanked God for his goodness, and prayed that she might never again doubt Him, but that even in times of sorrow, she might be able to say, with heart-felt trust in the words of her father's verse:
"God holds us in his hand, God knows the best to send."
Uncle Titus and Aunt Ninette engaged their rooms with Mrs. Kurd for the following summer; Uncle Titus even went farther still, and begged Mrs. Kurd, no matter what happened, never to promise them to any one else; for he left her house now with keen regret, and hoped to return to it every summer as long as he lived.
When Monday morning came, the whole family were on hand before the cottage, to wish the departing guests good-speed. Rolf drew the uncle aside, and asked if he might venture to send a charade to Karlsruhe, now and then; to which Uncle Titus kindly replied that he should receive any such with pleasure, and answer them with punctuality.
Sly little Hunne, when he overheard these remarks, declared at once, "I will also send mine;" for he did not doubt that his would be equally acceptable to Uncle Titus, if not more so. He thought also that the quiet people of Karlsruhe would never be able to guess such charades as he would make, and his heart was filled with pride. Dora and Paula wandered arm in arm into the garden, singing gaily,
"No farther losses to deplore In friendship live for evermore."