Rico And Wiseli by Johanna Spyri
How Wiseli was Provided For.
Chapter I. Coasting.
On one of the hills surrounding the city of Bern a little village is perched which shall be nameless in this story; but if you are curious, and go there in your travels, perhaps you may recognize it from the following description. On the very top of the hill stands one solitary house, with a beautiful garden about it. It is called "On the Height," and is the property of Colonel Ritter. The descent to the little square, where the church and parsonage stand, is sharp (in the parsonage the colonel's wife passed her happy days of childhood); and somewhat farther down is the schoolhouse, amid a little cluster of houses; while on the left, as you still descend, you see a lonely cottage with a pretty, well-kept garden, surrounded by currant-bushes, and adorned with mignonette and pinks, and a few roses amidst its chiccory and spinach. This is the last house on the road, which, from here on, makes one long stretch downward to the highway that goes far out into the country, parallel with the river Aar.
This long, unbroken descent forms, in winter, the most perfect coasting-ground imaginable; for once you are past the steep bit by the colonel's house, you may go on without interruption quite down to the road by the river; that is, always supposing that you make a fair start at the beginning.
This coast was an endless source of pleasure to the army of children who daily poured out of the door of the old schoolhouse when lesson hours were over, ran to the yard where they had piled their sleds on entering, took each his own from the heap, and scampered off in wild haste to begin their afternoon amusement. How the hours passed no one could imagine: down flew the sleds in a twinkling, and nobody felt the trouble of climbing up the hill, so full were all the little heads of the pleasure of going down again; and so the night, and the time for returning to their homes for supper, always took them by surprise.
This usually occasioned a stormy scene before they left the coasting-ground; for everybody wished to go down "once more," and then "just once more," and then "one single turn more,"--so that everybody hurried and jumped onto the sleds, and flew down and ran up again in a regular hurry-scurry.
A rule had been established to the end that no one should go down the coast while the others were still climbing up, but that all should go down one after the other in good order, to prevent confusion or accidents. Notwithstanding this good rule, there were often many lawless proceedings, especially towards the close of the day, when nobody wished to be the last, and when they all crowded onto the coast very closely together.
This was the state of affairs on a clear evening in January, when the snow fairly crackled under the children's feet as they mounted the hill, and the fields in every direction were frozen so firmly that you could have gone anywhere over them in a sleigh as if they were the highway. The children were all rosy and glowing with their exertions, for they were hurrying up the steep hill, pulling their sleds behind them, turning them about in a flash, jumping upon them, and off again head foremost, not to lose a second of the precious time until the moon shone brightly in the crisp sky, and the evening bells were ringing. All the boys were shouting, "Once more; just once more!" and the girls were as eager as they. At the top, however, where they all threw themselves upon their sleds, there was great excitement and uproar. Three boys each claimed to have reached the top first, and would not yield an inch to each other, but all must go down at once. And so they pushed this way and that, until a big boy called Cheppi was hustled quite against the bank of snow at the side of the coast, and found that his heavily ironed sled was fast in the snow. He was furious, for he saw that now all the other fellows would get off before he could extricate himself. He looked about, and presently espied a little slender girl standing near by in the snow. She was very pale, and held both arms wrapped in her apron to keep them warmer, for all that she trembled and shivered with cold from head to feet. She looked so feeble and miserable, that she seemed to Cheppi just the proper object upon whom to vent his rage.
"Can't you get out of a fellow's way, you stupid thing? What are you standing there for? You have not even a sled with you. Just wait a moment; I'll help you to get along!"
So saying, he thrust his boot into the snow, intending to kick it over the girl. She sprang back, however, quickly, so that she went quite up to her knees in the snow, and said timidly, "I was only looking on."
Cheppi was thrusting his boot into the snow again with the same intention towards the child, when he received such a tremendous box on the ear from behind, that it almost knocked him off his sled. "Just you wait a minute," he shouted, beside himself with anger, for his ear tingled as it had never tingled before; and doubling up his fists, he turned himself to see who was his hidden foe. A boy stood behind him, and looked on very quietly, holding his sled in position for another coast.
"Come on," he said calmly.
It was Otto Ritter, a class-mate of Cheppi, with whom he was always engaged in some little quarrel. Otto was a tall, slender boy, about eleven years old, and not nearly of the same strength as Cheppi; but the latter had learned more than once that with hands and feet Otto was much the more skilful of the two. He did not strike out, but held his fists doubled up, and cried out angrily, "Let me alone: I am not meddling with you."
"But I am with you," replied Otto, in a very warlike tone. "What business have you to chase Wiseli away like that, and then to kick snow at her, I should like to know? I have been looking at you, you coward! teasing a little girl who cannot defend herself."
With these words he turned his back contemptuously towards Cheppi, and called out to Wiseli, who was standing shivering all this time in the deep snow,--
"Come out of the snow, Wiseli. Oh, how you are shivering, child! Have you no sled really, and only been able to look on? Here, take mine, and go down once quickly. Do you know how?"
The pale, timid girl did not know what to make of this kindness. She had been looking on for some little time, watching the sleds as they flew down the hill, and thinking, "Oh, how I should like to go down to the very bottom just once!" when she saw two, and sometimes three, going down on the same sled. But now she might go down all alone by herself, and that, too, on the very handsomest sled on the coast,--the one with a lion's head, that went faster than any other, because it was light, and was bound with iron. She was so happy that she stood still, looking after Cheppi with a half feeling that he might strike her if she dared to enjoy such a piece of good fortune. But there he stood quite tranquilly, as if nothing whatever had happened; and by him stood Otto, with such a protecting air, that she took courage, and seated herself on the handsome sled; and when Otto called out, "Go on; go on, Wiseli!" she obeyed, and away she flew as if the wind were behind her. Very soon Otto heard the coasters all toiling up the hill again, and he called out, "Stay among the first, Wiseli, and go down again; after that we must go home." Wiseli was only too happy to do as she was bid, and enjoyed for a second time the long-wished-for pleasure. Then she brought the sled to its owner, thanking him shyly for his kindness, but more with her beaming eyes than with words; and off she scampered as fast as she could go. Otto felt decidedly happier. "Where is Pussy?" he called out, peering into the already scattering crowd. "Here she is!" replied a merry voice; and out of the knot of children appeared a red-cheeked, plump little girl, who slipped her hand into her big brother's protecting palm, and went with him towards their father's house as quickly as possible. It was very late, and they had over-passed the allotted time for coasting.