Gritli's Children by Johanna Spyri
Chapter I. The New Home.
Winter was over and gone. The early summer roses had opened again, and raised their heads high about the villa on the Rhine. They glowed and blossomed in all the garden-beds, and glistened in the sunshine, and sent their sweet perfume far and near on every breeze. On the pebbly path that led down from the splashing fountain to the lindens by the river, Fani and Elsli scampered back and forth, drinking in the fragrant air.
"Do you know where Mrs. Stanhope's house gets its name?" asked Fani, as he stood by a bed of flowers, watching with delight the airy butterflies flitting from blossom to blossom, and then floating away as in ecstacy up into the blue air.
"Of course I do," answered Elsli; "it is called Rosemount because there are so many rose-bushes stretching from up here way down to the lindens."
"Well, that's true; but there's nothing melancholy about it," said Fani, reproachfully. "What makes you look so sad, Elsli? You almost always look sad nowadays, and it isn't right, for I'm sure there's no reason for it. And Mrs. Stanhope notices it, too, and she doesn't like it very well; she must think that you are horribly ungrateful, and that you don't realize how well off we are. And yet you can't help realizing it when you think how it used to be at home."
"Yes; I do think of it, and I realize it all perfectly, Fani; and I am not a bit ungrateful. But you see I can't express it to Mrs. Stanhope; I wish I could. And then, besides, Fani," she added, after a pause, "Aunt Clarissa has often told me that when we are well off ourselves, and have everything we need, and more, too, we ought to think all the more about the poor, and do what we can to help them. And I am always thinking about them, and wishing that I could share some of the good things we enjoy with those who have none."
"What do you mean, Elsli?" cried Fani; "there is no one about here who is poor; even the men and women-servants live like gentlefolk. Have you never noticed that Lina, the chambermaid, wears a hat when she goes out, and a red and yellow shawl, just like Mrs. Bickel? And what red cheeks the cook has! She has enough to eat, I'm sure; and the coachman wears gloves when he drives."
"Yes, I know; but I mean--well, you see we have a great deal of time to ourselves, and can run round in the garden and amuse ourselves, and I can't help thinking that I might be doing something useful. I might knit some stockings for the children at home if I had some yarn, but I don't like to ask for any; I have so many things."
"Why, of course you can't ask for it, Elsli; what are you thinking of? And you know how many clothes and things Mrs. Stanhope is always sending to mother? Only last week a big bundle went off; don't you remember, Elsli?"
"Yes, I know all that; but what I mean is that I want to do something myself, and not go on taking my own comfort and enjoyment when so many other people are suffering."
"But you know the doctor said you must take comfort; and he told Mrs. Stanhope not to let you sit at your books and study all the time, but to keep you a great deal in the open air. Come, let's run all round the big rose-bed, and draw in long breaths of that delicious perfume. How strong it is! I can smell it way off here. Come!" and Fani took hold of his sister's hand and began to run. But she held back.
"I can't run as you do, Fani," she said, breathing heavily; "I would rather go down to the stone seat under the lindens by the river and sit a while."
"Now you see, Elsli," said Fani, as he walked slowly by her side down towards the river, "now you see how soon you get tired. It is a good thing for you that you have this garden to stay in. And how lovely it is down here, too! do you notice? there's quite a different smell here, and its delicious!"
Fani was already seated on the bench, and he leaned back against the trunk of the old linden, whose head was crowned with flowers that diffused a sweet perfume through the air. The fresh foaming waves of the river ran below, bathing the low hanging branches as they flowed along.
"Oh, how beautiful it is here! It will do you good to shout as loud as you can, Elsli. I'm sure it would make you feel better."
"Yes, indeed," said the girl assentingly, but no joyous look came into her pale face, such as shone from Fani's eyes. "When I sit here I always think of Nora. There's such a beautiful view of the sunset from here. And then I think of the evening when she went away, how the whole sky was golden, as if the heavens were open, and you could look right into them and see the crystal river flowing there forever. Whenever it is a clear evening, and the red clouds come in the west, I always think that Nora is looking down at me and beckoning me to come to her. How dearly I should love to go!"
Fani sprang to his feet in great distress.
"How can you talk so, Elsli? Here we are living so happily together. Nobody was ever so happy as we are, and yet you talk as if it was all nothing, and all you want is to die! I'm sure I don't want to die, and you ought not to. And if you were to talk in this way to Mrs. Stanhope just once, what do you suppose would happen? I can tell you--she'd just send us straight home, I know; and how would you like that? And I'm certain that she means to have us stay here always; for several times when I've said something about being a painter she has begun to talk about the future, and she takes it for granted that you and I are to live with her. Just think of that! Then I shall be a gentleman and you a lady like Mrs. Stanhope, and then--"
"Oh, Fani, you trouble me still more when you talk so," interrupted Elsli, sadly. "I see more plainly every day that I can never be what Mrs. Stanhope wants me to be. I am afraid she will be more and more vexed about it, and will like me less and less. And you too will be ashamed of me by and by, because I cannot be what you would like to have me."
Fani had seated himself again at Elsli's side, but at these words he sprang again to his feet, crying out reproachfully:--
"Oh, Elsli, what strange notions have you taken into your head? It isn't pleasant in you to talk so. Why don't you think of all the nice things there are, and what good times we have together, and let all these melancholy ideas go?"
"I don't think of melancholy things on purpose, Fani, and I wish I did not at all," said Elsli, pleadingly. "It is this way. Whenever I begin to think of something very pleasant, then sad thoughts come into my mind, and I keep wondering whether there isn't something that I can do for those in trouble, and then I am unhappy because I can't think of anything. I see so many things that you don't see, and I can't get them out of my head all day long."
"What sort of things?" asked the boy in surprise.
"Well, for instance, twice when we have been coming home from our afternoon walk, we have met a man with a heavy shovel on his shoulder, and you didn't notice him because you were so busy talking with Mrs. Stanhope. The man looked down on the ground, just as father does when he comes home at night all tired out and says, 'We shall hardly pull through, if I work ever so hard; I'm afraid we can't keep out of debt.' I'm sure that man is worried just as father was, and I keep thinking if I could only go after him and find out where he lives, I might do him some good, perhaps."
"But you mustn't do that," cried Fani, much horrified. "Don't you remember how Mrs. Stanhope told us in the very beginning that we must never go into any house where we didn't know the people? and that we mustn't speak first to people we don't know, as we do at home? You must not go and talk to that man. Do you hear, Elsli? Mrs. Stanhope would be very angry with you."
Elsli thought for a while. Presently she said, "I do not believe that Mrs. Stanhope meant that I should not speak to a poor man who is in trouble, as this man is. She only meant that we mustn't talk with people who ask us questions about where we came from and how we live at home. I don't believe she meant people like this man at all."
"Oh, Elsli, you can't make distinctions, that way," said Fani, impatiently. "All we have to do is to mind what we are told, and not speak to strange people or go to their houses. Now let's talk about something else; this sort of talk is tiresome. Come here; I'll show you something."
The children sat down again side by side on the stone bench, with their heads close together, and Fani took something out of his pocket which they both examined carefully. It was a small, nicely painted landscape, in fresh bright colors. Elsli studied it silently.
"Do you see what it is?" asked Fani.
"Yes, indeed, I knew it at the first glance. It is Rosemount; there are the roses and the linden trees. How beautifully you have done it, Fani! Won't Emma be delighted when she sees it, and surprised too? I'm sure she has no idea that you can paint so well!"
"I'm so glad she is coming," cried the lad, and his face glowed with pleasure. "There is no one that I can talk with about being a painter as I can with her. She understands just how I feel, and is as much interested in it as I am myself."
"Are you still bent on being an artist?" asked Elsli.
"Yes, indeed, more and more. Every day, and after every drawing lesson, I care about it more than ever before. I don't say anything about it, because I see that Mrs. Stanhope doesn't like the idea. You see, Elsli, she means to keep us with her all our lives, just as if we were her own children. I'm sure of it, from a great many things that she has said. We can stay here just as long as we don't do anything to displease her, and of course we sha'n't do that. Several times when I've said that I should like to be a painter, Mrs. Stanhope has said that it was a very good profession for persons who had no home, and were obliged to live alone, and could travel as much as they pleased in foreign countries. She said I might paint at Rosemount as much as I chose, but that I must not make it my business, because then I should have to go away to live. So you see that she is quite decided that we are to stay here."
Elsli shook her head.
"I don't know, Fani. It seems to me that we don't belong here in this beautiful house. Don't you feel so too, Fani? Somehow as if we were only here on a visit, and that to-morrow we might be going away again."
"There you are again with the old story," said Fani, rather vexed, for this doubt was very distasteful to him.
The time which they had to spend in the garden was now over, and hand in hand they passed back up the white pebbly path, and by the sweet-scented rose-beds, and entered the hall, which stood with wide-open doors on the garden side.