Rico And Wiseli by Johanna Spyri
How Wiseli was Provided For.
Chapter V. How Time Went On, and Summer Came.
When old Trine carried the news back to the heights, and told them there that Wiseli's mother was dead, and the child taken at once to her cousin Gotti's, the whole family became greatly agitated. Mrs. Ritter could not cease bewailing her neglect in not visiting the sick woman before, for she had been postponing it from day to day; but, of course, had not in the least realized how near the end might be. She was sadly cast down, and sorrowful. And Otto: he went raging up and down the room with great strides, and kept calling out angrily, "It is an injustice! It is a great injustice! But if he dares to lay a hand on her to harm her, he may look to his own bones, how many of them will be left whole in his skin!"
"Who do you mean, Otto? Who are you talking about in that way?" said his mother, looking curiously at her excited boy.
"About that Cheppi," he replied. "I do not know what dreadful things he will do to Wiseli when he has her there in his own house. It is not right, but just let him try"--But now Otto was interrupted by a repeated and heavy stamping that prevented his being heard. "Why do you make such a deafening noise, you pussy cat, there behind the stove?" he cried, turning his indignation towards another quarter. Pussy came out from behind the stove, but stamped more violently than before; for she was trying to force her feet into her wet boots, which it had taken the old Trine ever so long to pull off a while before. It was dreadfully hard work; and Pussy became as red as fire, while she said,--
"Don't you see that I have to do so? Nobody in the world could get these boots on without stamping."
"And what in the world do you want to put those wet boots on again for? I have just pulled them off, so that you should not have them on. I should just like to know what this means?" said Trine, who stood looking on all this time.
"I am going to the beech grove this very minute to fetch Wiseli to our house. She can have my bed," said Pussy, decidedly. But quite as decidedly old Trine stalked over to Pussy, at these words, lifted her up, placed her firmly on a chair, while she pulled off the boot that was half on; but said, in a pacifying tone, to the kicking and excited child,--
"That is all right! that is all right! but I will take care of you first. You must not get two pair of shoes and two pair of stockings wet through in one day. You can give up your bed. You can go up into the lumber-room, if you want to: there is room enough there."
But Pussy had a very different plan in her little head. She thought that she could free herself, in this wise, of a great and daily recurring trouble, that often gave her both inward and outward annoyance; namely, the being ordered off to bed every evening, and obliged to go, into the bargain, just as she was in the mood to enjoy herself especially. She thought that, if she gave up her bed to Wiseli, there would be none other at hand for her, and so she could stay up as long as she wanted to.
She was so delighted at this prospect, that she did not, at first, notice how the sly Trine had wisked off her wet boots, and that now there was no chance to fetch Wiseli.
When she fairly understood how she had been tricked, she set up such an outcry that Otto put his fingers in his ears, and her mother came in, a good deal alarmed at the uproar. She promised Pussy to talk over the matter with her father as soon as he came home; for he had gone away that very morning, with their Uncle Max, to pay a long-promised visit to an old friend. After a while peace and quiet were restored in the household. The gentlemen did not return for two weeks, however; but Mrs. Ritter kept her promise. The first thing that she mentioned to her husband, on the very evening of his return, was the fact of Wiseli being an orphan, and her new shelter; and the colonel promised to go to the pastor the very next day, to see what better arrangement could be made for the child; and, having visited the pastor, the colonel brought back the sad news, that, on the Sunday just past, the parish had taken the matter into consideration, and that it was now settled. Wiseli must be housed somewhere; and, as her mother had not left any property whatever, she must also be maintained at the expense of the parish until she could support herself. Moreover, her cousin Gotti had offered, in the first instance, to take the child for a very slight compensation. He wished to do an act of charity as far as he could afford it. He was known to be a well-conducted man; and, as he made so slight a demand, it was agreed and settled that the child should henceforth find her home with him.
"It seems to me a very good arrangement," said the colonel to his wife. "The child will be well cared for there; besides, what else could be done? She is much too small to be placed anywhere in service, and certainly you cannot take every orphan child in the neighborhood into your own house. You might as well turn it into an asylum at once."
Mrs. Ritter was very much disturbed by the news that every thing had been settled so soon. She had hoped to be able to have found a different home for Wiseli, who was, she knew, much too sensitive and delicate a child to be happy in a home where rudeness and roughness were the rule; but she had not a definite plan in her mind, and now there was nothing to be done but to try to look after the child's comfort a little, and to protect her, if possible.
Otto and Pussy did not take the affair so quietly, however. They were in great excitement when they heard it all on the following morning.
Otto declared Wiseli's lot to be the lot of Daniel in the lion's den, and brought his fist down on the table with the evident wish that he were pommelling Cheppi's head. Pussy screamed, and cried a little; partly out of pity for Wiseli, and partly from disappointment that she could not now carry out her little plan of being able to sit up later in the evenings.
But this excitement was at last quieted down, like every other, by time; and the days rolled on in their wonted manner.
In the meantime Wiseli has become somewhat accustomed to the life in her cousin Gotti's house. For one thing, her bed had come; and she no longer slept on the bench by the stove, but in a little place partitioned off from the passage between her cousin's room and that of the boys. There was just room enough in this little place for her bed, and a little chest, in which she placed her clothes, and upon which she had to climb when she wished to get into her bed; for there was no space between.
She was obliged to go to the well when she washed; and, if it was very cold, then her cousin's wife said she could give up washing for that day, and do it on another when it was warmer. Now Wiseli was not used to this style of thing at all. Her mother had taught her that cleanliness was absolutely necessary; and Wiseli would have frozen rather than to look untidy, and, therefore, displease her mother. To be sure, every thing was different for her at home; for she washed and dressed herself in her mother's room always; and many a loving word they exchanged until the coffee was on the table, and they sat down together, and ate their breakfast happily, before Wiseli started off for school.
But what a difference for her now! All, all was changed,--her whole life from morning till evening; and often, at the thought of her mother, the tears started into the poor child's eyes, and her heart ached so sadly, that she felt as if she could go no farther, but must drop down, and die. But she held herself bravely, for it distressed her cousin Gotti to see her cry, and his wife scolded more than ever; for she, too, disliked to see her dull.
The happiest part of the twenty-four hours for Wiseli was when she climbed into her little bed at night, and had a moment's time to think about her dear mother in peace.
At this time she always obtained comfort. She thought about her beautiful dream, and felt perfect confidence that the good God would find a way for her out of her troubles, as her mother had told her; and she hoped that her mother was also in heaven, and would pray to God not to forget her poor little child left alone in the wide world. Then Wiseli always repeated her hymn, and slept quietly.
So the winter slipped away, and the spring with its sunshine followed. The trees were green again, and the meadows were gay with primroses and white anemones, and in the wood the cuckoo sang lustily; and soft, warm breezes were all abroad, making every heart beat more cheerily; and one rejoiced that life was still possible.
Wiseli also rejoiced over the flowers and the sunshine, especially when she went to and from school. Beyond this she had little time for enjoyment, for she had so much work to do. Every moment out of school she had to employ in some useful occupation; and, indeed, often was obliged to stay away from school for a half-day at a time, there was so much to be done that could not be neglected, as her cousin Gotti, and particularly his wife, were forever telling her. The cultivation of the fields had begun, and also the garden work; and when her cousin's wife was in the garden, then Wiseli had to wash the cooking utensils, and had the hogs' trough to cleanse and carry back to the barn; and then the boys' stockings and shirts must be mended, and her cousin's wife always said, "Oh, the child can do that, she has nothing else to do;" and yet she never was idle a single moment, and felt almost giddy at times, because she was called from one piece of work to another before she had time to breathe. Moreover, she found that if, for example, she ran over to the field with the seed-potatoes that her cousin Gotti was calling for, then his wife would scold because she had not made the kitchen-fire for the supper, as she was bidden to do; but if she stopped to make the fire, then she was found fault with by Cheppi because she had not mended the hole in his jacket-sleeve he had told her to long ago; and everybody called out, "Why don't you do this, or why don't you do that? you have nothing else to do." She was glad to go to school whenever she was allowed to go, for she was quiet for a while then; and, moreover, in that place the poor child heard a pleasant word now and again. For each time that recess came, or they left school to go home, Otto would come to her, and talk with her pleasantly for a while, or give her an invitation from his mother to visit them on Sunday evening and play games with the children. Poor Wiseli could never avail herself of these charming invitations, because on Sunday she had always to make the coffee for the family; and her cousin's wife said that she could not think of letting the child go away to visit on the only day when she was really of some use to her. But the child was glad that Otto always asked her, though she could not go, and that he always spoke kindly to her; for those were the only friendly acts or words that she knew of nowadays. There was still another reason that made it pleasant for Wiseli to go to school, and that was the passing by Andrew the carpenter's pretty garden on her way there. She always paused and looked over the low hedge, hoping that she might catch sight of the carpenter; for she had her mother's message to deliver, and never ceased hoping to find the opportunity. She was far too shy to go into the house for that purpose. She felt that she did not know Andrew well enough to venture to do that. She was particularly timid with him, because he was so very quiet, and always looked at her kindly when they met, but never spoke; or, at least, never said more than a kindly word in passing. And she had never succeeded in catching even a glimpse of him, no matter how long she stood by the hedge and looked over.
May passed, and June. The long days of summer came, with more and more work to be done in the fields, and work that was ever hotter and hotter. Wiseli felt this keenly when her cousin Gotti called her out to help with the haymaking, and the heavy rake was so hard for her to lift; or, worse still, to handle the clumsy wooden fork when the hay needed spreading in the sun to dry.
She often was obliged to work in the fields, and in the evening was so tired out that she could scarcely move her poor little arms. She never fretted, however, for she thought it was necessary and right; but often, when she was still for a moment in the evening, it hurt her sadly to hear Cheppi call out, "You ought to do your examples in arithmetic now, as I do. You are never doing any thing out of school, and in the classes you are always behind the others."
She would have liked to study and get on at her lessons, if she could only have gone regularly to school, and been able to keep up with the class. She was well aware that she was far behind her schoolmates; but what could she do, when she only got a little here and there, and all was confused for her, and she never knew what lessons were given out for the out-of-school studies. When she came quite unprepared to school, and could not answer the questions put to the class, she was overwhelmed with mortification, especially when the teacher would say, before all the other children, "I did not expect to see you so behindhand, Wiseli,--you of all others, who used to be so clever at your books." Then she used to feel fit to sink through the floor for shame, and would cry all the way as she walked home. But she did not dare to answer Cheppi back when he taunted her, because then he would begin to cry and scold, and make a noise, until his mother came in, when she, too, would reproach her with being behind her classes, because Cheppi said she was. So Wiseli often kept back her tears, and only gave way when she was alone; and sometimes it did seem to her as if she were quite forgotten by her heavenly Father and her mother, and as if nobody in the whole world cared for her; and she was too sad at heart even to say her comforting hymn for a long time; but she could not rest nor sleep until she had done so, even though there was little satisfaction for her in the words.
One beautiful evening in July Wiseli slept, after a sad time of weeping, and could not obtain an answer, the next morning, to her question of whether she might go to school with the boys.
Off scampered the boys. She looked sadly after them through the open window as they sprang away gayly through the flower-besprinkled grass, and chased a cloud of white butterflies along in front of them as they ran through the brilliant sunshine.
Her cousin's wife had prepared the big wash,--this was the work laid out for the whole week. Must Wiseli work there too?
Yes: already she heard a calling from the kitchen, and her cousin Gotti called her by name,--he stood at the well, and saw her looking out of the window.
"Make haste, make haste, Wiseli; it is time to be off: the boys are half-way to school. All the hay is in: make haste and go too." She did not wait till he told this twice. Like a flash she snatched her satchel and was off.
"Tell the teacher that I have not sent him his money for a long time, but he must not be vexed at that, we have had so much work with the hay this summer."
How happy the child felt as she flew along! She need not stand all day at the wash-tub: she could go instead to school. How beautiful it was everywhere about! The birds sang more sweetly than ever from the trees, the grass was scented, and the pretty red and yellow flowers glistened in the sun. Wiseli could not stop to enjoy them,--it was too late for that,--but she felt the beauty as she ran along, and rejoiced at every step.
That same evening, just as all the children streamed out of the close schoolroom into the beautiful afternoon light, the teacher called out, with his serious face peering into the little crowd, "Whose week is this?"
"Otto's, Otto's," called the whole company at once, and ran off.
"Otto," said the teacher, earnestly, "yesterday it was not swept up here at all. I excuse you for once; but do not let it happen again, or I must punish you, boy."
Otto looked for a moment at all the nut-shells and apple-parings and bits of paper that lay scattered about the floor waiting to be brushed up; then he turned his head quickly away, and scampered out of the door, for the teacher had disappeared into his own part of the house. Otto stood outside and gazed about him at the golden sunset, and thought, "If I could go home now, I could get a capful of cherries, and I could ride the brown horse home from the field when the groom fetches the hay; and now I must stay here instead, and sweep up these scraps from the floor!" And Otto was so angry over this unpleasant task, that he scowled about him, saying, "I wish the day of judgment would come, and carry off the schoolhouse, and break it up into a thousand pieces!" But every thing was still and peaceful all about, and not a sign of any such ravaging earthquake to be seen or heard.
After a while Otto turned back towards the schoolroom-door with a savage determination, for he knew that he must bite into his sour apple, or be punished the next day by having to sit still during recess; and he would not run the risk of that disgraceful punishment. He entered the room, but stood still with surprise as soon as he stepped past the threshold. Every thing was brushed up in the school-room: not a scrap nor bit to be seen anywhere. The windows all stood wide open, and the soft evening breeze blew through the quiet room. Just then the teacher came out of his own room and looked about him, and at the staring Otto, and said, pleasantly, "You may well look about you with satisfaction. I did not think that you could do it so well. You are a good scholar; but you have surpassed yourself to-day in cleaning up, for I never saw it so neatly done before."
So saying, the teacher went away; and after Otto had convinced himself by a last glance that what he saw was fact, and no witchcraft, he dashed down the steps, two at a time, across the little place and up the hillside: and not until he began to tell it all to his mother did he begin to wonder to whom he was indebted for this good turn.
"Nobody has done it through a mistake, that is certain," said his mother. "Have not you some good friend who is noble enough to sacrifice himself in this way for you? Think over all of them: who can it be?"
"I know," cried Pussy, who had been listening eagerly.
"Yes; pray who?" said Otto, half curiously, half incredulously.
"Jack, the mouse," explained Pussy in a tone of conviction; "because you gave him an apple last year."
"Oh, yes; or William Tell, because I did not take away his, year before last. One would be quite as probable as the other, you wonderfully clever Puss." And Otto ran away barely in time to catch the groom, who was going for the hay.
Wiseli also ran about this time. Down the hill with a happy heart and a merry countenance, past Andrew's garden, she ran, jumping and leaping in her frolicsome mood; and then about she went, and jumped back again to the garden, for she had espied the pinks all in bloom just within the enclosure, and must look at them again, they, were so beautiful. "I shall soon overtake the boys," she thought; "they stop at every corner to play ball."
But the pinks were most lovely to look upon; and they had such a sweet perfume, too, that the child lingered, looking over the low hedge for a long time. Suddenly Andrew came out of his house-door, and stood in front of Wiseli. He offered her his hand over the hedge, and said most kindly,--
"Will you take a pink, Wiseli?"
"Yes, indeed," she replied; "and I have a message to give you from my mother."
"From your mother?" repeated Andrew the carpenter in great surprise, and let the pink that he had just gathered fall from his hand. Wiseli ran round the hedge and picked it up from the ground; then she looked up at the man who stood still and looked at her strangely, and said,--
"Yes; at the very end, when my mother could do nothing more, she drank up the nice syrup that you put on the kitchen-table for her, and it refreshed her very much; and she charged me to tell you that she thanked you for it very much indeed, and for all the many acts of kindness that you had shown her; and she said, 'He always felt kindly to me.'"
Now Wiseli perceived that big tears rolled from Andrew's eyes and fell over his cheeks. He tried to say something, but could not speak. He pressed the child's hand, turned him about, and went into the house.
Wiseli stood still and wondered. Nobody had wept for her mother. Even she had not dared to cry, except when nobody could see her; for her cousin said that he would not have any whining, and she was even more afraid of making his wife angry. And now here was some one who wept because she had spoken of her mother to him. It seemed to the child as if Andrew were her very best friend upon the earth, and she felt herself strongly drawn towards him. But now she ran with her pink as fast as possible towards the beech grove; and it was well that she did so, for she saw the boys also drawing near the house, and it would never have done for her to be later than they.
Wiseli said her prayer with a light heart that night, and could not understand why she had been so depressed the night before, and why she had felt no confidence in God's kindness, and could not even say her hymn. Now she felt sure that he had not forgotten her, and she would never allow herself to think that again. Had she not received many kind things from him? And as she fell asleep she saw before her the kind face of Andrew the carpenter, with the tears in his eyes.
On the following day--it was Wednesday--Otto was again surprised by the good deed performed for him by his unknown friend; for he could not refrain from going out with the others when school was first over, and making a few gambols here and there to refresh himself after the long confinement. When, at last, he returned somewhat sadly to his work, it was all done again, and the schoolroom perfectly tidy. Now his curiosity began to be excited, and also gratitude to his invisible benefactor began to stir in his heart. He would certainly find out on Thursday what it all meant.
So, when the classes were dismissed, and they all left the house as usual, Otto stood for a while by his seat, thinking how he could discover his helpful friend. But a knot of his schoolmates rushed in as he stood there, grasped him by arms and shoulders, and dragged him out, crying, "Come along! Come on! We are playing 'Robbers,' and you must be our leader."
Otto defended himself for a moment. "This is my week," he cried.
"Oh, nonsense! put it off," they said. "Only just for a quarter of an hour. Come along!"
And Otto went. To tell the truth, he relied secretly upon his unseen friend, who would certainly shield him from punishment. He found it extremely agreeable to feel such a support under his feet; and the quarter slipped into the full hour, and Otto was lost. He went back to the schoolhouse to fulfil his duty, and threw open the door with such a slam that the master rushed out of his room very quickly, and asked,--
"What do you want, Otto?"
"Only to look in again, to see if every thing is as it should be," stammered the boy.
"This is excellent," said the teacher; "but it is not necessary for you to slam the door in that way."
Otto went away in good spirits. On Friday he made up his mind not to do his work of cleaning until he was satisfied about the mystery; and then,--then there would only be Saturday morning left of his week.
"Otto," called out the teacher on Friday, as the clock struck four, "take this paper over to the pastor as quickly as you can. He will give you some papers to bring back. It will only take you a moment or two, and you will be here in time to brush out the room."
The boy did not like to go very well, but there was no help for it; and, of course, he could be back in a twinkling. He reached the parsonage in half a dozen bounds. The pastor was busy, just then, with a visitor. His wife called Otto to her in the garden. She wanted to know how his mamma found herself; if his father were well, and Pussy, too; how Uncle Max was employed; and if they had good news from their relations in Germany. Then the pastor made his appearance, and Otto had to explain why it was his business to bring the papers, and what the teacher was doing at present. At last he got his papers, and was off like an arrow, pulled open the door of the schoolroom,--to find every thing swept and garnished, and no living being visible.
"And I have not been obliged to stoop once, to clear away the tiresome bits, the whole week through," thought Otto contentedly. "But who can have done all this dirty work without being obliged to do it?" Now he determined, for once and all, to have that question settled.
The school hours ended at eleven o'clock on Saturday. Otto waited until all the children had gone, and the room was empty. Then he went outside, closed the door, and leaned with his back against it. There could no one enter without his seeing who it was. He preferred to do this, rather than to go at once to work at the sweeping and cleaning. He waited and waited: no one came. He heard the clock strike the half-hour. There were plans at home for an excursion that afternoon. The family were to dine early, to get away soon after dinner. He ought to begin with his work at once, if he wanted to get home in good season. How he hated it!
He opened the door. Now Otto stared about him even more than he had done the first time. The work was all done. It was certainly so, and nicer than ever before.
Things began to look rather queerly to Otto. He thought of ghost stories, and such things. Very much more softly than usual he slipped out, and closed the door behind him. Just at the same time, something slipped silently out of the teacher's kitchen, and they came together face to face. It was Wiseli. She grew red and redder, just as if Otto had detected her in something mischievous. Now the truth flashed into his mind.
"So it is you who have done my work all the week, Wiseli?" he said. "Nobody else would have thought of doing it unless obliged to, I am sure of that."
"You have no idea how glad I am to get the chance," said Wiseli, in reply.
"No, no; you must not say that, Wiseli. Nobody in the world can be glad to do such things," said the boy decidedly.
"But I mean it,--I really do," repeated the girl. "I have thought, all day long through the week, with pleasure of the chance the afternoon would give me; and, while I was working, I was more than ever glad, because I thought, when Otto comes, he will find the work done, and be pleased."
"But what put it into your head to do it for me?"
"Oh! I knew how much you disliked it; and I have always wanted to give you something, as you once gave me your sled. Don't you remember? But I have nothing to give."
"What you have done is worth a great deal more than lending a sled. I won't forget your kindness, Wiseli." So saying, Otto offered her his hand, quite overcome for the moment.
Wiseli's eyes shone with satisfaction as they seldom did nowadays. Presently Otto wanted to know how she had managed to get into the room again, for he had always waited until all the children were gone.
"Oh! I never did go out," said the girl. "I hid myself quickly behind the closet-door. I thought you would go out for a few moments, as usual."
"How did you get out without my seeing you afterwards?" Otto wanted to know all about it.
"Oh! while you were running around with the other boys, I got out easily enough. I listened; but yesterday and to-day, as I was not certain where you were, I went through the teacher's kitchen, and asked his wife if she had any errand for me to do,--she often gives me a message to carry somewhere,--and then I went out that way. Yesterday I was behind the kitchen-door when you ran into the schoolroom."
Now Otto knew all the ghost story. He offered his hand again to Wiseli. "I thank you," he said; and they both ran off with happy hearts, each a separate way.