How Wiseli was Provided For.
Chapter IV. At Cousin Gotti's.
 

When Wiseli made her entry into her cousin Gotti's house at Beech Grove, the three boys came running out of the barn, and, behind Wiseli, into the room, where they placed themselves in front of her in a row, and stared at the timid little thing with all their eyes. Her cousin's wife came out of the kitchen, and stared also at the little thing, as if she had never seen her before.

Her cousin Gotti seated himself behind the table, and said,--

"I think she can eat something: she has not had much to-day. Come here," he said, turning to Wiseli, who stood all this time in the same place, with her bundle under her arm. She obeyed. Now her cousin's wife put new wine and cheese on the table, also a huge loaf of black bread. Cousin Gotti cut a big slice, put a lump of cheese upon it, and pushed it towards the child. "There, eat, little one," he said. "You must be hungry, I'm sure."

"No, I thank you," said Wiseli, softly. She could not have swallowed even a crumb. She felt as if she were crushed under her load of sorrow and anxiety, and could scarcely even breathe.

The boys stood there all the time, and stared at her.

"Don't be frightened," said cousin Gotti, encouragingly. "Do eat something." But the child sat motionless, and did not touch her bread. Her cousin's wife came again; and, putting her hands on her hips, stood looking her over from head to foot.

"If you don't want it," she said, "you can leave it;" and turned on her heel, and went again into the kitchen.

When cousin Gotti had refreshed himself sufficiently he arose, and said, "Put it in your pocket. By and by you will feel like eating, only do not feel frightened;" and he went into the kitchen. Wiseli tried to do as he told her, to put the bread and cheese into her pocket; but they were too large, and she put them back upon the table again.

"I will help you," said Cheppi, snatching the pieces from the table; and was about to stuff them into his open mouth, but they flew up into the air instead, for Hannes had knocked Cheppi's hand up with a smart blow, and so the plunder was scattered, and Rudi darted upon it, and carried part of it away. With this the two oldest boys fell upon him, and they kicked and cuffed, and screamed and shouted, until Wiseli was terribly frightened. Presently their father opened the kitchen-door, and called out, "What does this all mean?" Then the boys all answered at once, from the floor; and one said, "Wiseli did not want it;" and another, "Wiseli had not any;" and "As long as Wiseli did not want any"--

Their father called out, loudly, "If you do not stop that, I will come in with the thong, and whip you." And he slammed the door again.

"It" did not "stop," however; but, as soon as the door was shut again, it began worse than ever, for Hannes found that the best way to treat the enemy was to grasp him by the hair; and so they all seized each other by the hair, and stood in a ring, uttering terrible noises. In the kitchen their mother sat on a stool, and peeled potatoes. When her husband closed the door again, she asked,--

"What is your idea about that child? Why did you bring her home with you at once?"

"I thought she would have to stay with somebody. I am her cousin Gotti, and she has no other relatives. You can make her useful. She can do what you are doing now. Then you will be able to do other things. You are always saying that the boys give you so much work,--more than is right."

"Yes, as regards them, a great help she will be! You can hear now what a racket there is in there, and she is only a quarter of an hour in the house."

"I have heard that sort of thing a good many times before the little one came. I do not think that she has much to do with it," said the cousin Gotti quietly.

"Oh, you did not hear them!" said his wife sharply; "how they kept calling out something about Wiseli?"

"Well, they may call out, if they want to," said their father. "You will soon have the little one in hand. I think she is not a troublesome child,--I noticed that in the beginning,--and is much more obedient than those boys of yours."

This was too much for his wife.

"I do not see what is the use of finding fault with the boys," she said; and she peeled the potatoes faster and faster. "And I should like to know where the girl is to sleep."

Her husband pushed his cap back and forth several times upon his head, and said, soothingly,--

"One can't think of every thing at once. She must have had a bed to sleep in; and she can, at least, have that. Tomorrow I will go to the pastor. To-night she can sleep on the bench by the stove. It is always warm there; and I can put a partition in the little passage that goes into our room later, and set her bed in there."

"I never heard of bringing home a child and getting a bed for it a week afterwards," said the woman crossly; "and I should like to know who will pay for it if we must build something more for her into the bargain."

"When the parish assigns the child to us, they will allow us something for her maintenance. I shall take her cheaper than any one else would do, and she will be more comfortable here too."

With this the cousin went out into the shed, and called out for Cheppi to come with him. It was hard for the cousin's wife to make herself heard in the room when she wished to give this message. They were all fighting away, and shouting angrily and loudly.

"I am surprised that you sit there looking on, and do not try to quiet them in the least," said their mother to Wiseli, who sat cowering against the wall, and did not dare even to move. Cheppi, however, was dispatched to the barn, and the two others ran after him.

"Do you know how to knit?" the cousin's wife asked Wiseli, who replied, timidly, "Yes, I can knit stockings."

"Well, then, take this," she said; and took from the cupboard a big brown stocking, with yarn almost as stout as Wiseli's little fingers. "Go on with the foot," she said, "and take care to make it big enough: it is for your cousin Gotti." Then she went back into the kitchen, and the little girl took her seat on the bench by the stove, with the long stocking coiled up in her lap,--for it was so heavy that she could scarcely knit if it hung down: it pulled the needles out of her hand. She had scarcely begun to work, however, before her cousin's wife came in again.

"I think you had better come out into the kitchen with me," she said. "Then you can see how I do things, and be able to help me a little by and by." Wiseli obeyed, and watched her cousin's wife at her work as well as she was able; but the tears kept coming into her eyes so that she could scarcely see, for she thought all the time of how she used to go about in the kitchen with her mother, who chattered so pleasantly with her, and how they would stop to kiss each other now and then. She knew very well that she ought not to give way to her tears, and tried to swallow her sobs, until she felt almost strangling.

"See here, look here," said the cousin's wife, every now and then; "then you will know how to do it by and by." And she went about, here and there, in the kitchen, letting Wiseli stand, and said nothing else to her. This went on for some time, when there was a terrible stamping in the entry, and the woman said, "Open the door as quick as you can: they are coming." The noise was made by the cousin and his sons, who were knocking the snow off their shoes before entering. Wiseli opened the door into the inner room as quickly as possible; and the cousin's wife lifted an enormous pan off the fire, and ran with it into the room, where she shook a great heap of potatoes out over the slate-topped table. Then she brought out a big jug of sour milk, and said, "Put the things that are in the table-drawer on the table, and then they can all sit down at once."

Wiseli pulled out the drawer as quickly as possible. There lay five spoons and five knives. She put these upon the table, and the supper was ready. The father and his sons came in, and sat down at once on the seats along the wall behind the table. At the other end stood a chair. Cousin Gotti made a motion towards the chair and said, "She can sit there, I think; or do you say no?"

"Oh, certainly!" said his wife, whose seat was nearest the kitchen-door. She did not remain seated a moment; but ran out into the kitchen and came back, took a spoonful of milk, and was off again.

Nobody knew why she ran about in this way, for there was nothing cooking in the kitchen, and nothing to bring out, but she always did so; and when, sometimes, her husband would say, "Do sit still, and eat something," then she seemed more hurried than ever, and said she had no time to sit still, there were so many things to be looked after.

When she had made two visits to the kitchen and returned, and began to peel a potato in great haste, she noticed, for the first time, that Wiseli sat idly by her side, her hands on her lap. "Why don't you eat something?" she said, angrily. "She has no spoon," said Rudi, who was seated on the other side, and had long been wondering why anybody should sit at table and not eat as long as there was any thing left. "Oh, yes, of course," said his mother. "Who would ever have thought that we should need six spoons? We have always found five enough; and we must have another knife too. Why can't you speak? You know well enough that to eat you want a spoon." These last words were addressed to Wiseli.

The child glanced timidly at the woman and said, "It is no matter: I do not need any. I am not hungry."

"Why not?" asked the woman. "Are you used to a different kind of food? I don't mean to change, if you are."

"I think it would be better to let the child alone for a while; we must not frighten her," said her cousin Gotti, soothingly. "She will feel better soon."

So Wiseli was unmolested, and the others were busily employed for a while. She sat there motionless until her cousin rose, took his fur cap from the nail, and began to look for the stable lantern; for "Spot" was sick, and must be looked after again that night. The table was quickly cleared. The empty potato-skins were brushed off into the empty milk-jug, the slate-top wiped off; and when the woman was done with this, she said, turning to Wiseli, "You have seen what I did; now you can do it the next time." Now Cheppi took his seat firmly behind the table again. He had his slate-pencil and arithmetic book, and prepared himself to do his examples. First, however, he stared for a while at Wiseli, who had again taken up her brown stocking, but did not make any progress; for she could not see a thing in the dark corner where she was seated, and she did not dare to draw nearer to the table where the dim lamp was placed. "You must have something to do," cried Cheppi, in an irritated tone. "You are not the smartest scholar in the school." The girl did not know what to answer. She had not been to school that day, and did not know what lessons were given out; and, besides, was quite out of her usual habits and life generally. "If I must do my examples, so must you, or I won't do them at all," cried Cheppi again. Wiseli kept as still as a mouse. "Well, then, it is all right," said the boy noisily. "I won't do another stroke of work." And he threw away his pencil.

"Then I won't do any thing, either," cried Hannes, and stuffed his multiplication-table into his satchel again; for learning his lessons was the hardest thing in the world for him.

"I will tell the master whose fault it is," began Cheppi again. "You can see, then, what you will get."

Probably Cheppi would have gone on in this unpleasant style for a long time, if his father had not soon returned from the barn. He brought in two big, empty grain-bags on his shoulders, and came up to the table with them.

"Make room," he said to Cheppi, who sat with his elbows on the table, supporting his head on his hands. Then he spread out his two bags, folded them together again, and then again. At last he went towards the bench behind the stove, and put them down on it. "There," he said, with an air of satisfaction, "that is good. Where is your bundle, little one?" Wiseli fetched it from her corner,--where it had lain ever since she arrived,--and looked with surprise at her cousin Gotti as he placed the bundle at the upper end of the folded bags, and pressed it down, so that it was not perfectly round.

"There, now you may go to sleep," he said, turning round to Wiseli. "You cannot be cold, for the stove is hot; and you can put your head on your bundle, and you will be as comfortable as if you were in your bed.

"And it is time for you three to go to bed, too. Off with you: make haste!" So saying, he took the oil-lamp from the table, and went towards the kitchen. The three boys clattered along after him.

When he reached the door, he turned again and said, "There, sleep soundly. Must not think any more to-night, and it will be better for you by and by," and he went out. Presently his wife came into the room with an oil-lamp in her hand, and looked at the place where Wiseli was to sleep. "Can you lie there?" she asked. "You will find it warm enough by the stove. There are plenty of people who have neither bed nor a warm place to be in. You won't suffer in that way, and ought to be thankful that you are under a good roof. Good-night."

"Good-night," replied Wiseli, softly; but the woman could not have heard her, for she was already away when she spoke, and had closed the door behind her immediately. Now Wiseli sat alone in the dark room. Every thing about her was suddenly silent,--not a sound to be heard. A straggling moonbeam shone through the little window,--enough to show the child where the bench by the stove was, upon which she must find her bed. She crossed the room, and seated herself there. For the first time that day since she had left her dear mother, she found herself alone, and able to think over what had befallen her. She had been constantly under excitement until this moment; for every thing that had happened frightened her. All that she heard or saw since she left her home had been so very unpleasant that she could not stop to think at all, but went from one alarm to another. Now there she sat alone, without her mother, and began to realize that it was all over,--that they would never see nor hear each other again in this world. And such a sense of loneliness, of utter desolation, took possession of Wiseli, that she believed herself uncared for and forgotten by everybody, and feared that she should be left there alone to die in the dark. The poor child laid her head down upon her bundle, and began to cry, bitterly and despairingly, "Mother, can you not hear me? Mother, do not you hear me call?"

Now Wiseli's mother had often told her little girl, that when things went very badly with us here below, then was the moment to lift up our voices and cry to God for help; for he would hear us in our trouble when all other's ears were deaf, and help us when no other help was possible. At this moment the child remembered these words, and she sobbed aloud, "Oh, you dear God in heaven! help me also, I am so unhappy, and my mother cannot hear me when I call!"

And when she had prayed thus several times over, she felt calmer. It comforted her poor little heart; for now she felt that God was really there in heaven, and could help her, and that she was no longer alone. And presently she recalled her mother's words,--almost the very last that she spoke: "My child, when you cannot see your way clearly before you, and every thing seems strange and difficult"--And now it was so; and how little she thought that it ever would be so, when her mother was talking to her. Her mother told her to remember the words of the hymn,--

  "Your road He'll also find,
  Nor let your footsteps stray."

Now Wiseli first rightly understood these words, and felt their full meaning. Before she had repeated them mechanically, for not until now did she need them. But it was just her present case. Was not she full of perplexity? and what could she possibly have in her cousin Gotti's house but fear and trouble? And so she repeated, again and again,--

  "Your road He'll also find,
  Nor let your footsteps stray."

The child had found her way to her heavenly Father, and knew that he was sure to help her; and she felt comforted. Folding her little hands, she began the hymn at the beginning, for it seemed like talking to a kind friend; and she said each word from her very heart:--

  "To God you must confide
  Your sorrow and your pain;
  He will true care provide,
  And show you heaven again.

  "For clouds and air and wind
  He points the path and way;
  Your road He'll also find,
  Nor let your footsteps stray."

A quiet trust now took possession of the child's heart. She fell asleep soon after, her head supported on her little bundle, still repeating the last lines of the hymn. And a pleasant dream followed. She saw before her a dry bright pathway in the full sunlight, and the road led between beautiful red roses and lovely pinks that were so attractive that she longed to run to gather them. And by her side stood her dear mother, and held her hand tenderly in her own, as she always did; and her mother pointed along the pathway in her dream, and said, "See, my Wiseli; did not I tell you so? That is your way."

  "'Your road He'll also find,
  Nor let your footsteps stray.'"

And the child was happy in her dream, and slept as soundly on her little bundle as if she were on a soft bed.