Gritli's Children by Johanna Spyri
Chapter III. On the Beautiful Rhine.
In the garden at Rosemount was such an excitement and running to and fro as had never been seen there before. It was the day after the arrival of the three guests. Great had been the surprise of the doctor's children, yesterday evening, when they were shown up stairs, to find three large rooms assigned for their use, one to each. For the house was so arranged that there was but one bed in each room. The windows of all three rooms overlooked the garden, and beyond could be seen the river. The children had never before been so royally lodged. Emma planned directly to spend long hours at her window, looking into the moonlight and listening to the river, as late as she chose, for no one would come to send her off to bed. Oscar looked about the large apartment, and thought what a fine place it would be to spread out his banners. They would not be in any one's way, as they were at home; and no one would come and clear them out. Fred examined all the presses, tables, and drawers, and destined them to his special uses.
The meeting of the five children was a most joyous one to them all. From the first moment they found themselves on as intimate a footing as if they had never been separated. Elsli and Fani were not changed as the doctor's children had feared they might be; on the contrary, it seemed as if they were even nearer to their old friends. Fani was merrier and more lively than ever, and Elsli, although still somewhat shy, was more confiding than before, and just as amiable and obliging; and they both were so attractive in their nice clothes, that Emma took great delight in merely looking at them.
The first morning was spent in emptying the big trunk, with Aunt Clarissa's help, and in arranging the contents in the three rooms. In the afternoon the children were allowed to explore the house and garden, and to have a run in the meadows, that they might become acquainted with Rosemount and its surroundings. What a pleasure for them all!
Emma's first wish was to get down to the river-side, under the lindens, and to see the branches dip and rise and dip again into the swiftly flowing stream. Fani had drawn her a picture of it, and she must see it. It was Fani's favorite spot, and he was ready enough to show it to her; so the two ran off together.
Fred did not know which way to turn. He was fairly bewildered by all the living wonders that surrounded him; the glancing, gleaming, humming world of the rose-garden. Here a golden beetle crept across the lawn; there the air seemed full of gayly colored butterflies. On the edge of the fountain sat a golden-green lizard in the sun. Over on the hedge a great variety of wonderful insects swarmed on every leaf and twig! What a harvest he could gather! He ran about in every direction; he was beside himself with delight; discovering every moment something new and unexpected. Nor was this in the garden only. Down by the river, under the old trees, in the thick hedges, in the damp earth by the water-side, between the cracks of the stones by the river, he felt sure of countless treasures. He paid little attention to his friends or his brother and sister; he seemed to swim in an ocean of wealth, undreamed of before, and all within his grasp!
Oscar, meantime, under Elsli's guidance, had been examining every part of the garden; carefully observing everything as he walked along down to the Rhine, along the meadow-land and back to the court-yard, which was all walled in, and where two big oak-trees cast a far-reaching shadow. Around these oaks ran a wooden seat where one could sit in comfort under the thick protection of the leafy cover. Here the two children seated themselves; and Oscar looked thoughtfully across the broad meadow, around which ran a high hedge; a broad paved path led from the court-yard down to a gate-way of iron-work, which united the hedges that enclosed the whole estate.
"And you say, Elsli," said Oscar presently, "that beyond the hedges the land does not belong to Mrs. Stanhope at all?"
"No, Oscar; a very large vineyard belongs to her besides. It is so large that you would not believe the quantity of grapes that she gets from it. It lies on the other side of the house, towards the Rhine."
"I don't mean that," said Oscar; "Fani showed me that this morning. I mean from the end of the meadow-land across the high-road there."
Elsli was quite sure that Mrs. Stanhope owned nothing beyond the high-road.
"Do you see that little hill over there?" said Oscar, pointing in that direction. "There's a wind-mill up there; see how finely the big wings go turning round in the wind, like huge banners waving for a festival, and inviting people from all sides to come and rejoice together. All the people who are to come to our celebration might camp out around the foot of that hill, and the speaker could stand up above there on that platform, and those huge flags would wave to and fro behind him and show where the festival was taking place, to all the neighboring country!"
Oscar uttered these words in such a tone of enthusiasm that his companion caught the infection; but she hesitated.
"Yes, it would be fine," she said; "but don't you think we should have to ask the miller's leave?"
Oscar thought this would not be at all necessary, as the meeting would do no harm to the mill or to the grass, which was evidently very short. He would go over and inspect the place himself.
"How is the banner getting on, Elsli?" he asked presently.
"Oh, I forgot it entirely!" said the girl, somewhat startled. "It is all ready, and I meant to put it in your bedroom to welcome you. You see, Oscar, I finished it; because Aunt Clarissa said that it would be prettier without a motto, if I put a wreath of Alpine roses on the Swiss flag, and so I embroidered one upon it."
But this did not suit Oscar at all; he wished to have his motto, his verses, over which he had spent so much trouble and had had so many discussions. He had no mind to drop it now; and he looked as if he had suffered a severe loss. Elsli saw his disappointment, and she hastened to propose a remedy. Why not put the motto on the other side of the banner? Oscar could print the verse in large letters on a piece of paper, and she would fasten it upon the banner, on the side opposite the Alpine roses. That was a clever thought. Oscar's spirits rose again, and the banner would be really in the end far handsomer than he had expected.
"You are the smartest girl I know, Elsli," cried the lad; and this unexpected praise brought the color into Elsli's cheeks, for she was little accustomed to notice, much less to commendation.
"How many Swiss have you found and invited to join our society?" continued Oscar.
Elsli confessed that she had discovered but one; the baker's boy who brought fresh bread to the house every day; and she could not induce him to join the society. "I am very sorry," she said, "that I could not do as you asked me; but we are not allowed to go into the kitchen and talk to the people that come there."
But Oscar was well satisfied. He only wanted to know at what time and from which direction the baker's boy came every morning; and this Elsli told him. "All right!" he said; "I can help myself, now."
Meanwhile, Fani and Emma were walking up and down by the river-side, talking with constantly increasing eagerness. Emma had never been so excited; she had had a tremendous surprise. Since Fani had left home, she had never lost sight of her hope that he would become a great artist. He had never mentioned the subject in his letters, and it had been more and more evident that Mrs. Stanhope meant to educate the two children, as she would have done her own, in various branches, without any view to a special training for a life-work. Emma feared that Fani would lose his ambition to be an artist, and she set herself to work to counteract this danger. She had heard of a book called the "Lives of Celebrated Painters," and she did not rest till her aunt promised to procure it for her at Christmas; for she thought it would inspire Fani with fresh enthusiasm to learn how artists had become great and celebrated. She now brought the book with her, and told Fani about it, in the hope that it would serve as a spur to arouse his dormant energies. What was her astonishment when Fani pushed the book away, and broke out passionately:--
"No, no; I will not read it! I will try not to think of it at all! You see, Emma, I have a drawing lesson every day; only now of course I do not, while you are here on a visit. And the more I draw, the more I want to; I can do much better than I used to, and the teacher has told me several times that I can certainly learn to be an artist."
Emma could not contain her joy at these words, and she cried out:--
"Now it's all right, Fani! You can be a painter, and I am sure you will be a celebrated one, the most famous one in all the land. But why do not you tell Mrs. Stanhope directly that you want to do that and nothing else?"
Fani shook his head and looked very much depressed.
"It would be of no use. Mrs. Stanhope will not allow me to be an artist; I am sure of that. Once when we were walking, I said to her that I thought painting pictures was the greatest happiness a man could have; she said it was only a childish notion; and that when I grew up I should have very different ideas as to greatness and happiness. And since then she has taken me about the estate several times; for you know, Emma, that it is a very large property; great vineyards stretching for miles along the Rhine. She says there is nothing so desirable for a man as to own a large place, and to live on it; and I think she has the thought in her mind that she will keep me with her here on the estate; and of course it would be a great thing for me if she did. Just think of it. Always to live here as we do now; how terribly ungrateful I should be if I did not rejoice in such a prospect! Only--I must give up all idea of ever being an artist!" And Fani hung his head.
"Oh, what a shame! It's of no use thinking about it any more, then!" cried Emma, in tones of intense disappointment. "And I was just beginning to think that everything would turn out for you as I had hoped. It is too bad! I had such good fun reading the book, and putting your name in the place of the celebrated artist; like this--'In delicacy of drawing Fani von Buchberg stands far above all his compeers.' For you know when you were celebrated, you would be spoken of so; for they always take the name of their birth-place, instead of their family name; and that would be particularly nice, because Hopli isn't a very good name, but Fani von Buchberg sounds finely, doesn't it? Listen!" And Emma read from the book.
"Where Fani von Buchberg learned to mix his paints, is a mystery. Even to this day, he is the only one who can place such enchanting tones of color upon his canvas. Of course, that is a mistake; it ought to be shades of color, shouldn't it, Fani? Oh! think, if such things could be said of you! and now it is all over; no chance of that any more!" And the girl threw herself on the bench as if it wasn't worth while to take the trouble to stir again.
Fani sat down at her side. He had followed every word she had said, with increasing excitement; and he had caught the fire of her enthusiasm, for his eyes flamed.
"I know something that may make a difference," he said presently; and at his words Emma, who had looked as if life had lost all charm for her, sprang up with renewed interest, exclaiming eagerly:--
"What is it, Fani? Speak; do speak!"
"Come with me," and he ran along the river-side, drawing her with him. "There, sit down here and look up over Rosemount, towards the wood. Do you see that ruined castle, all covered with ivy?"
"I don't see anything. Oh, yes, I do now! I can see an old, old tower"; and as she spoke the excited girl leaned backwards towards the river, and she would certainly have fallen in, if Fani had not caught her and held her fast.
"There, we will go back to the seat again," he said; "though the ruin is scarcely visible from here," he added, as they reached the spot; "but it is safer. It is the most beautiful ruined castle that you can imagine. It is all covered with ivy, and the stones are moss-grown, and the gray walls show through in places, and in the setting sun they flame with crimson; you've no idea how beautiful it is! I saw it once from the steamboat. It was splendid! Now listen! The last lesson I took, the teacher asked me whether I was in earnest when I said that I wanted to be a painter; and I said yes, but that I could never be allowed to; and I told him just what I have told you. He understood at once; and he said that I mustn't, of course, do anything to displease Mrs. Stanhope; but that possibly she might in some way be led to have the same wish. He advised me to make a drawing of something very beautiful; and he said he would send it to Duesseldorf, where they do something or other with a whole lot of drawings, and the best one gets a prize. If mine got a prize, Mrs. Stanhope might change her mind; and if it didn't, I could try again. I thought directly of the ruined castle, and how beautiful it would be to draw! But there's no good view of it except from the middle of the river, and it's quite impossible for me to get there."
To Emma there was no such word as impossible.
"Of course we can get there, Fani. What a delightful ideal" she cried. "We can make a trip on the steamboat, and we can see the river, and you must make a sketch of it as fast as you can."
"Oh, yes! I shall just get a few strokes on the paper, and then--whizz!--we shall be past it like a flash of lightning. What good would that do?"
Emma was not to be discouraged. If the only thing needful was a way to take a sketch from the river, she would set herself to find such a way.
At this moment Fani interrupted her meditations by the exclamation: "Oh, the bell! the bell!" and she heard the ringing of the supper-bell; and the two children scampered back to the house, and joined the scattered guests, who came from every direction to meet in the great dining-room.
At the upper end of the table, spread with many delicious luxuries, sat Mrs. Stanhope, and she welcomed the children in the kindest manner. Aunt Clarissa seated them in their places, then sat down herself at the foot of the table, and the meal began. The guests brought wonderful appetites to the feast. The conversation was subdued, for in Mrs. Stanhope's presence the children's liveliness was somewhat checked. Elsli spoke least, and also partook least of the tempting viands. Her abstinence attracted the attention of Fred, who sat next her, and, in spite of a warning shove which she gave him under the table, to show him that she wished to avoid observation, he exclaimed in a loud whisper:--
"What's the matter with you, Elsli? Why don't you eat?"
After supper Mrs. Stanhope led them all out upon the terrace, and they sat down in a semicircle on the garden benches. Then she told them that she had a plan of taking them very soon on a steamboat excursion down the Rhine, as far as Cologne; where there was a remarkably fine zooelogical garden which they would all visit together. Emma's eyes blazed with delight, but she did not speak; her thoughts were busy, but not wholly with the animals of the garden. Fred was delighted at the prospect; but the zooelogical garden had a powerful rival in an enormous night-moth which was humming about his head, and which he could hardly resist his desire to jump up and catch. Such a prize it would be! But he recollected his aunt's advice, on the good manners of sitting still, especially in Mrs. Stanhope's presence. Oscar was overjoyed at the prospect of a voyage, and he bethought himself immediately of the possibility of meeting with persons much more desirable for his Society than Elsli's baker's boy.
The next day the children sat down to keep their promise of writing home an account of their experiences. The three letters were very different in style, but they were all filled with the delight of their writers at the beauty and magnificence of the villa, and with the pleasures they enjoyed and the kindness they received. They hoped they should stay twelve weeks instead of six. These were the letters. But into each letter was secretly slipped a private note, addressed to Aunty, begging her to persuade papa to allow the visit to be prolonged as much as possible. Fred added that if the time fixed should be a year, and then a cipher added to the number of days, three thousand six hundred and fifty would not be one too many for him.