How Wiseli was Provided For.
Chapter VI. Old and New.
 

Summer was over, and Autumn had followed in her footsteps. The evenings were cool and misty. In the damp meadows the cows were eating the last grass of the season, and here and there little fires were visible where the sheep-boys cooked their potatoes and warmed their stiffened fingers.

It was on such a misty evening that Otto, on leaving the schoolhouse, ran home for a moment to tell his mother that he was going to see what kept Wiseli from school; for she had not been there since the autumn vacation,--certainly not for eight days.

As he approached the beech grove, he saw Rudi sitting before the door, eating pear after pear from a heap that lay before him.

"Where is Wiseli?" asked Otto.

"Outside," was the answer.

"Where outside?"

"In the meadow."

"In which meadow?"

"I don't know;" and Rudi went on munching his pears.

"You won't die early because you know too much," remarked Otto, and went haphazard towards the big meadow that stretched away from the house to the wood.

Presently he discovered three black spots under the pear-trees, and went towards them.

He was right. There was Wiseli stooping over the pears which she was sorting, while a little farther off Cheppi sat astride of his rake; and behind him Hannes lay on his back across the piled-up basket, and rocked it back and forth so violently, that it nearly fell over at each movement. Cheppi looked at him, laughing loudly.

When Wiseli saw Otto coming towards her, her whole countenance glowed with pleasure.

"Good evening, Wiseli," cried the lad from afar. "Why have you not been to school for so long?"

The girl stretched out her hand with a pleasant smile to her friend.

"We have had so much to do that I was not able to go," she said. "Just look, what a lot of pears we have! I have to sort them from morning till night, there are so many."

"Your shoes and stockings are all wet. It is not pleasant here. Are you not cold when you are so wet?"

"Yes, I do feel chilly sometimes; but, in general, I get very warm at this work."

At this moment Hannes gave his basket such a powerful twist that over it went, and there lay Hannes, the basket, and the pears all in a heap on the ground.

"Oh, oh!" cried Wiseli in distress; "now they are all to be picked up again."

"And this one, too," cried Cheppi, and laughed aloud as the pear that he had in his hand struck Wiseli's cheek with such force that it brought the tears to her eyes, and she turned quite white with the pain.

Scarcely had Otto seen this than he flew at Cheppi, threw him and his rake to the ground, and seized him by the nape of the neck.

"Stop, or I shall choke!" Cheppi was not laughing now.

"I want to make you remember that you will also have me to deal with in future, when you treat Wiseli in that way," said Otto, scarlet with anger. "Have you got enough? Will you remember it now?"

"Yes, yes! Let me go!" said Cheppi, in a very humble tone.

Otto released him.

"Now you have felt," he said, "how it will be whenever you hurt Wiseli again. I will give you some more of this each time, even if you are sixty years old. Good-by, Wiseli." And Otto went his way to carry his anger to his mother.

He unburdened himself to her as soon as he reached home. It was a terrible thing to the generous boy that Wiseli should be obliged to submit to such treatment. He was determined to go at once to the pastor to complain of him and of his whole family, and demand that Wiseli should be taken away from them at once. His mother listened quietly to him, and let his indignation have time to cool off a little; then she said,--

"I do not think, my dear boy, that there is the least use in your doing this. They would not take the child from her cousin Gotti, I am sure; and it would only irritate him, should he hear that such a thing was thought of. He himself does not feel unkindly towards Wiseli, and there is really no sufficient ground for removing her from his roof. I know very well that the poor girl has a hard time of it there. I have not forgotten her, and am constantly hoping to find some way to help her. It lies very heavily on my heart to know how much she has to suffer, you may be sure of that, Otto. And if you can at any time manage to shelter her and intimidate that brutal fellow Cheppi, without being too rough yourself, I shall be very glad."

Otto took what comfort he could in the knowledge that his mother was constantly looking out for some way to help Wiseli.

He was always planning some way to help her himself, but never hit upon any thing that could be carried out. He saw very well that she could not free herself; and the only idea that occurred to him as Christmas drew near was to write on his list of wishes, in huge letters so big that they could easily be read from heaven above, "I wish that the Christ child would set Wiseli at liberty."

Winter was come again, and the coast offered its feast of inexhaustible pleasure to the children, who never wearied of its charm. The moon shone with the most unusual brightness, it seemed to Otto, who, at last, had the cleverness to suggest that all the children should collect on the hillside at seven o'clock to take advantage of its beauty for an evening coasting-party.

This suggestion was received with universal approbation, and the children separated at five o'clock when it began to be dark, to meet again at seven for their favorite amusement.

Otto's mother was not so enthusiastic over this great scheme as were the children, and could not agree with them when they expressed their delight. She said it was too cold for them to be out late into the evening; that there was great danger of accidents in the uncertain moonlight; and particularly objected to allowing Pussy to expose herself. But her objections only served to enhance the interest the children felt for the expedition, and Pussy pleaded for her consent as if her very life hung on being one of this coasting-party. Otto promised, "upon his word of honor," that he would not let any thing happen to his sister, and would always keep near to her and protect her. At last their mother gave her consent; and, with great noise and rejoicing, the children went out into the beautiful, clear, cold moonlight.

Every thing went on without a drawback. The coast was in perfect condition; and the mysteriousness of the darker places, upon which the moonlight did not fall, heightened the interest of the occasion. There were a vast number of children assembled, and all were in the best humor. Otto let them all go down first; then he followed, and Pussy came last of all, so that no one could run her down. Otto had arranged it in this way, so that he could always glance backward to see that his little sister went safely down the coast.

As every thing went so smoothly and happily, somebody proposed that they should make a "train;" that is, bind all the sleds together, and so go down: it would be more delightful than ever by moonlight. No sooner said than done. Only Pussy's sled was not tied to her brother's, for he feared lest the straining and shocks that often took place in this kind of coasting might prove dangerous to her. She followed, therefore, as usual; but Otto could not stop his sled if she was delayed, for he had to go on with the "train." Off they went, and the long chain reached the bottom safely and happily.

Suddenly Otto heard a fearful cry, and he recognized at once his little sister's voice. What had happened? He had no choice, however, but to go down to the very end with the merry party to which he was closely fastened--down to the foot of the hill, no matter how great his fear might be. Once at the bottom, however, he tore his sled loose, and ran up the hill as quickly as possible, with all the others at his heels; for they had all heard the screams, and wanted to see what they meant. Half-way up the ascent stood Pussy by her sled, and screamed and cried rivers of tears. Out of breath with his haste, Otto could hardly call out, "What is the matter? What has happened?"

"He did--he did--he did," sobbed Pussy, and could get no further.

"What did he do? Who was it? Where? Who?" stammered Otto.

"That man there, that man; he did try to kill me, and said terrible words, too."

As much as this Otto understood, accompanied by screams and sobs.

"Be quiet now, Pussy: do not go on like that. He did not kill you, after all. Did he really strike you?" asked Otto, very gently and soothingly, for he was much alarmed.

"No," sobbed Pussy, beginning again; "but he was going to. He had a stick, and he held it out like that, and said, 'Wait a moment;' and such dreadful words he said, too."

"Then he really did not do any thing to hurt you?" asked Otto, and began to breathe more freely.

"But he did, he did; and you were all off down the hill, and I was all alone." And Pussy's tears and sobs continued to break forth.

"Hush, hush!" said Otto, consolingly. "Now try to be quiet. I will not leave you again, and the man will not trouble you any more; and if you will be quiet and good, I will give you the red candy cock that was on the Christmas-tree."

This made an impression upon Pussy. She dried her eyes, and did not make another sound; for that big red candy cock on the Christmas-tree was what the child had most wished for. In the division of the things it had fallen to Otto's share; but his little sister had never forgotten her longing for it. Now that every thing was quiet again, the children began to climb the hill, and they tried to make out who the man could be who had threatened to kill Pussy.

"Oh, kill! Not so bad as that," interposed Otto. "I saw a big man with a stick, who was obliged to step into the snow to get out of our way when we went down the coast on the 'train.' It made him angry to be obliged to go into the snow; and finding Pussy alone there, he scolded her a little to relieve himself."

This explanation satisfied everybody, it was so perfectly natural. Everybody wondered that they had not thought of it before,--indeed, thought they had,--and soon forgot all about it, and continued coasting. This, however, had an end, like all other pleasures; for eight o'clock had struck long ago, and that was the hour at which they were to break up and go home. On the way back, Otto charged Pussy not to speak of her adventure; otherwise their mother would never again let them go coasting in the moonlight. She should have the candy cock, but must promise not to say a word if she took it.

All traces of her tears had long vanished, and nothing betrayed their secret to the family.

Both children slept quietly in their beds soon after, and Pussy dreamed of the red candy cock, and shouted out with pleasure in her dreams. Presently there was a loud knocking at the house-door, that made Colonel Ritter and his wife spring up from the table, where they were comfortably talking about the children; and old Trine called out of the window, in an angry tone,--

"What sort of a way of knocking is that?"

"A terrible thing has happened," said some one from below. "We want the colonel to come down the hill. They have found Andrew the carpenter dead." And off ran the messenger again.

Mr. and Mrs. Ritter had heard enough, however, for they had heard this sad news from the window. The colonel threw his cloak about his shoulders, and hastened down to the carpenter's. As he entered the room, he found that there were already a crowd of people assembled. The justice of the peace and the chief magistrate had been fetched, and a number of curious and sympathetic people had come along with them. Andrew lay on the floor, in his blood, and gave no sign of life. The colonel went to his side.

"Has nobody been for the doctor?" he asked. "We want a doctor at once."

Nobody had thought of that,--there was no use in trying to do any thing, they said.

"Run, somebody, as quickly as possible," said the colonel. "Go, you,"--to a lad who stood near,--"tell the doctor that I send him word to come here immediately." He helped to raise Andrew from the ground, and to carry him into his bedroom, and to lay him on the bed. Then he went back to the chattering group of neighbors, to find out how the accident had taken place,--if anybody knew the precise circumstances.

The miller's son stepped forward, and told his story. He was passing the house about a half-hour ago, he said; and, seeing a light in the window, stopped to ask if his bits of furniture were finished. He found the door of the room open, and Andrew lying dead on the floor, covered with blood; and by his side stood Meadow-Joggi, and held out a piece of gold between his fingers. Then the miller's son had called all the neighbors, and sent some one for the chief magistrate and everybody whose business it was.

Meadow-Joggi--who was so called because he lived down in the meadow-land--was a foolish fellow, who was supported by the neighbors, who gave him little jobs of work suitable to his feeble capacity, such as carrying sand or stone where they were needed, or helping to sort the fruit, or gathering fagots in winter.

No one ever had heard of his doing any mischief. The miller's son told him to stay where he was until the president came; and so Joggi stood in the corner, held his fist tightly closed, and laughed to himself. The doctor soon arrived on the scene, and behind him came the president. The council took its place in the middle of the room, to consider the case. The doctor, however, went at once into the bedroom, and the colonel followed him. The doctor examined the motionless body carefully.

"Here it is," he cried presently. "Here, at the back of the head, is where Andrew was struck. There is a large wound here."

"But he is not dead, doctor, is he?"

"No, no; he breathes feebly, but it is with difficulty."

The doctor wanted all sorts of things,--water and sponges, and linen rags, and so on,--and the people ran this way and that, and searched and pulled things out from the closets and drawers, and produced a heap of things, but nothing that was useful for this occasion.

"We want a woman here who has some intelligence, and knows what is needed in sickness," said the doctor at last, rather impatiently. They all called out this one or that one; but not one was able to come of all those mentioned.

"Let somebody go to the 'Heights,' and tell my wife to send old Trine down here," said the colonel. And somebody ran off.

"Your wife won't thank you," said the doctor; "for I shall not be able to let the nurse leave this patient for three days and nights."

Trine came, laden with all needful things, much sooner than anybody dared hope for her; for she was all ready with her big basket packed, and her mistress stood by her side, expecting the order for her to go down to Andrew's; for they would not believe that Andrew was dead, and had thought of every thing that could possibly be needed. She had sponges and bandages, lint and oil, and warm flannels, packed in her basket, and had only to run off when the messenger came. The doctor was delighted.

"Everybody must go now. Good-night, colonel; and turn all those people out of the house, will you?" cried the doctor, and closed the door without ceremony as soon as the colonel went out.

The committee was still sitting, but the colonel explained that the house must be emptied; so they decided to imprison Joggi, and then institute investigations. Two men took Joggi between them, so that he could not get away, and carried him off to the poor-house, and shut him up in a room. Joggi went with them very willingly, and laughed now and then, and looked into his hand.

The following morning Mrs. Ritter hastened down to Andrew's house in great anxiety. Trine came softly from the bedroom, and brought the welcome news that Andrew had come to himself a little; that the doctor had already made his visit, and found his patient in better condition than he expected; but he left especial orders that nobody should be allowed to enter the room. Andrew was not to be permitted to speak one word, even if he wished to speak: only the doctor and the nurse might come into his presence. Trine said these words with great pride, for she was a very good nurse, and well aware of the importance of the situation. Mrs. Ritter fully appreciated all this, and went home rejoicing over the news.

A week went by. Every morning Mrs. Ritter went down to the sick man's house to obtain an accurate statement of his condition herself, and to find out if any thing were needed for his comfort, in order that all his wants might be supplied at once. Every day Otto and Pussy sent the same message; namely, "When could they be permitted to see their sick friend?" but the doctor was inexorable. There was no possibility of Trine being allowed to go, either; and the doctor could not praise her enough for her intelligent care of the patient. After the week was fairly over, however, the doctor sent word to the colonel that if he would come to Andrew's at the same time he made his daily visit, they would go in together; for now that Andrew was able to talk, the doctor wished to have the colonel hear what could be told about the terrible assault that had prostrated the good carpenter.

Andrew was very glad to press the colonel's hand gratefully in his own,--he knew very well where all the care and comfort came from with which he was surrounded.

He collected his thoughts to the best of his ability to answer the questions put to him. This was, however, all that he could tell them. He had taken out the yearly sum of money that he always carried up to the colonel for investment, and was in the act of counting it over once again, to be sure that it was right. It was rather late in the evening, and he was seated with his back towards the door. While he was in the midst of counting, he heard some one enter the room; and before he had time to turn about, he received a tremendous blow upon his head. After that, all was a blank.

There had been a heap of money upon the table. Nothing was to be found of it, however, but the piece that Joggi held in his hand when they found him.

Even supposing that Joggi were the malefactor, where was the rest of that money? When Andrew learned that they had taken Joggi into custody and shut him up, he was very uneasy.

"Oh, you must let him go, poor Joggi!" he said. "He never would hurt the smallest infant. He never struck me."

For all that, Andrew had no suspicion who it could have been. He had no enemy, he said, and knew of nobody who would wish him harm.

"It may have been a stranger," suggested the doctor, as he looked at the window. "If you sat here, with the bright light shining upon your pile of money while you counted it over on the table, anybody going by the house could have seen you, and taken a notion to rob you."

"I suppose it must have been in that way," said Andrew. "I never thought of such a thing, however. Every thing has always stood open in the house."

"It is well that you have laid something by already, Andrew," said the colonel. "Do not fret over this: it is so lucky that you will soon be well again."

"Certainly, colonel; and I have every reason for thankfulness. The good God has given me far more than I have any use for." And he shook hands with his friends, who agreed, in parting, that Andrew was much less to be pitied than the man who tried to kill him.

There was a sad story told about Joggi, which excited the sympathy of the schoolboys exceedingly. Otto brought it home with him and repeated it several times, for it made a deep impression on his mind. It seemed that when they brought Joggi, laughing all the way, into the almshouse that evening, he was told to give up his piece of gold to one of his guards,--the son of the justice of the peace; but Joggi shut his fist tighter, and would not give it up at all. But the two men were stronger than he, and at last forced his hand open; and, as they took the money away from him, one of them said, "Only wait a little till the others come, then you will get what you deserve. You will see!" For he was vexed at the scratches he had got in the struggle.

These threats had frightened the poor half-witted fellow, who thought he was going to be beheaded, having no idea of what his punishment might be. And he refused to eat, and cried and groaned incessantly.

The officers of justice had been to see him twice, to assure him that, if he would only tell them what he had done, he should not be punished. He repeated that he had not done any thing but look in at the window; and when he saw Andrew on the floor, he went to him and shook him a little, and then he was dead. He saw something shining in the corner, and picked it up; and then the miller's son came in, and a lot of other people.

When Joggi got thus far in his story, he began to cry and groan, and would not be pacified.