Gritli's Children by Johanna Spyri
Chapter V. Great Preparations.
The day had come for the expedition to Cologne. It was a perfect day. The sky was blue and the sun shone bright. The children had a delightful trip, and the zooelogical garden was beyond all expectation interesting. Nevertheless, when they went to bed that night, each was a little dissatisfied on looking back over the day. Each thought:--
"It was splendid! but what a shame!"
Yet each was thinking of a different disappointment.
When they went on board the steamboat in the morning, Mrs. Stanhope said:--
"Now, all come and sit here quietly with me; there are so many passengers to-day that it will not do for you to be running about."
This prevented Oscar from carrying out his plan of going through the crowd, to find as many fellow-countrymen as he could, whom he could invite to his great Festival.
Emma had cherished a hope that by some unexpected arrangement it would turn out that the boat would stop for a little while in sight of the ruined castle, and she had brought pencils and paper, so as to be ready for the fortunate moment, if it should come. She was greatly disappointed when the boat shot swiftly by the spot, so that she hardly caught even a glimpse of the chosen view. Fani glanced at her despondently, with a look which said:--
"You see I was right. There's nothing to be done about it."
On entering the gardens, Mrs. Stanhope said again that they must all keep together. No one must linger behind, nor hurry before, or they might get lost; and they must not touch anything in the garden.
This was a blow to Fred, and took away most of his satisfaction in seeing the animals; and his martyrdom did not cease while they were in the gardens. Here he heard great buzzing and humming in a bush, and he longed to see the wonderful insects that made it. There he saw bright-colored butterflies fluttering about the flowers; on one side red-gold beetles were creeping in the grass before his eyes; on the other some huge lizards were sunning themselves on a rock. He must pass by all these attractions; not stop a moment to examine them, not touch one of all this multitude of treasures. It was almost too much for him. He could scarcely keep his hands off.
Elsli walked silently along, scarcely able to enjoy anything she saw, for thinking:--
"They are all waiting for me; and I shall not come all day."
And so it was that all five, in spite of the enjoyments of the day, went to bed at night with the feeling, "What a shame!"
But the next morning the thoughts of disappointment had passed away, and they came out to their recreation in the garden with happy plans for the day.
Oscar had a great deal of business on hand. He must see the Fink boys and fix the day for the Festival. Then, Feklitus was to come to-day, and he must be met at the station. They had put off the Festival till his arrival, for he would be one countryman more, and that was worth counting. Oscar had written him that there were three good hotels near the station; the Bunch of Grapes, the Eagle, and the Morning Star. A little farther on, down by the Rhine, was a magnificent house, as large as the church and the school-house at home put together; yes, and six dwelling-houses besides. It was called the Crown Prince. There were Rhine baths there, and many guests came for the sake of the bathing; perhaps this hotel was rather more expensive than the others.
Mr. and Mrs. Bickel immediately decided in favor of the Crown Prince, on account of the name, which certainly suited perfectly for their son, and also because of the acquaintances he might make there. Of course, there would be only the best of company there, since only those would go who could afford to pay high prices. It was proper, too, to show people that their son was a person who could afford to stay at the most expensive place. Oscar was therefore requested to engage a room for Feklitus at the Crown Prince.
When the time came for the children to go out and occupy themselves as they pleased, Oscar went off like a shot. He and the Fink brothers were now such fast friends that they could not pass one day without meeting, and had promised to remain intimate all their lives long. Oscar had never had such friends before. When they were together the hours flew like minutes, for they had a thousand interests in common--their plays, their plans, their wishes for the future; they talked over everything together.
When the hour came for Feklitus to arrive, they started for the station together. In spite of the friendliness with which the Fink boys met the new-comer, the greeting was rather a one-sided affair, for Feklitus was not accustomed to making friends with strangers. His trunks were handed over to the omnibus-driver, and the four boys proceeded to the hotel on foot. Here he was shown to a very large room, furnished in splendid bright red satin, and with windows higher than the doors of most Buchberg houses.
Oscar began directly to tell Feklitus the arrangements that were to be made to-day in preparation for the great Festival to-morrow. The flag-staff must be set in a hole in the ground, and held firm by stones placed close around its base, so that there would be no delay in the morning. Then he told him whom he had found to join the society and take part in the Festival.
Feklitus' nose went up in scorn.
"A fine set of people you have collected! and all from the small cantons, too!" he exclaimed.
"What do you mean?" cried Oscar, angrily. "Who was it that wanted to put on the banner, 'Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity'?"
"Well, I say that still," answered Feklitus, stoutly. "But I'll have fraternity with those I choose, and not with every one that comes along, as you do."
"Ho, ho! that's it, is it?" cried Oscar, still more furious. "What do you understand, then, by equality?"
"Just what you do," retorted Feklitus. "I mean that we all have equal rights to do our own way; I don't care what other people do as long as they let me alone to act as I choose."
"Oh, you're a fine Swiss!" cried Oscar, screaming with excitement. "Much you must know about the history of your country! Do you know what you would be doing now if it had not been for the brave fellows from the small cantons? You'd be crouching before the tyrant's hat and licking the dust from his shoes!"
At this point the Fink boys joined with great liveliness in the dispute, and supported Oscar's side so energetically that Feklitus became excited in his turn, and shouted that he knew the history of Switzerland as well as they did, and that he had always been at the head of his class in school. The quarrel grew louder and louder, and above all Oscar's voice rose the loudest, crying angrily:--
"We will show you by and by, when we are old enough, what fraternity and equality and love of our country means. We will found a society for the whole of Switzerland, and every year we will celebrate the Feast of the Foundation, in which all the inhabitants of all the cantons shall take part; and at the feasts they shall sit in the order in which they joined the society. The first members shall sit at the head, and then you will see who they are!"
"Yes; then you'll see!" screamed the Finks, and Feklitus raised his voice still more furiously:--
"Well, you won't come anywhere near the first, you St. Gall fellows, not by a long piece!"
Just here the door was thrown wide-open by a very elegant waiter, who looked anxiously at the windows, as if he was afraid they had been broken in the fray. Then he placed himself in the door-way with a very polite air, as if to intimate that he would there await the close of the entertainment.
Oscar found it quite time to lower his voice, and to invite his friends to go with him to the place chosen for the Festival. The polite spectator waiting at the door seemed to exercise a subduing influence upon all the young patriots; for they became suddenly silent, and followed Oscar readily. He stopped at Rosemount only to fetch his banner, and then the boys went on.
When they reached the hill where the windmill stood, the banner was unrolled and admired. The garland of Alpine roses was beautiful with its bright colors and green leaves. On the other side Elsli had neatly sewed a large circle of paper, on which Oscar had inscribed his favorite motto, in large, legible letters.
The afternoon sun shone brightly on the hill and on the great sails of the windmill. It was a fine place for a festival. The Fink brothers began to dig a hole for the flag-staff; and Oscar directed them, and when they were ready he held the staff upright while they filled in the earth around it, and piled up the heavy stones. Feklitus looked on.
Just before this, the owner of the mill had decided on a walk to visit his property. He was looking about inside, when unusual noises without attracted his attention. Coming to a window in the upper story, he looked down on the scene below. There, directly before his astonished eyes, floated a banner, on which these words were plainly visible:
"Freedom we shout! Freedom for all! Freedom forever and aye! We will not yield till all chains fall, And tyrants are banished or die!"
He saw, too, that the boys were working hard to fasten the staff securely in its place.
"Hm, hm, so, so!" he murmured; "that's to be planted on my land! We'll see about that."
He stood still at his post of observation, and watched the farther proceedings. When the staff was firmly fixed so that it was not swayed by the blowing of the banner above, it was carefully drawn out, the stones were buried in the hole and neatly covered with sod. The preparations for the Festival were now all made, and to-morrow the banner could be easily set in place, and the celebration go on.
Oscar had long had a speech in readiness. Now he cast one long delighted glance at the beautiful platform before the windmill, so suitable for a speaker.
"At six o'clock to-morrow evening, not before; the others could not get away before," he said to his friends. "The meeting-place is behind Rosemount, by the three oaks. From there we shall march to music."
Then the four boys went down the hill, and at the main road they separated, promising to meet at the appointed time and place to-morrow.
Early in the morning of this same day, Emma had begun in her busy brain a new set of schemes. On the trip the day before, she had seen something which had excited her inventive powers in the highest degree. At the table at noon a keen observer would have suspected that something was in the wind, from the unseemly haste with which the little girl devoured her food. She was too busy with her project to remember her manners! When they arose from the table, and Mrs. Stanhope, with her never-forgotten politeness, dismissed them with "many wishes for an agreeable afternoon," Emma slipped lightly down the stairs, like a little weasel, and into the kitchen. The fat cook looked up with surprise from her cup of coffee; she could not get along without her coffee at noon, whatever happened.
"Well, now, has anything gone wrong with you, miss?" she asked.
"Oh, no," answered Emma; "but I have a little favor to ask of you. Drink your coffee, first; do."
"I've finished. What do you want?" asked the cook, slowly rising from her chair.
"My shoes are very dusty; will you please wipe them for me?" asked Emma, as politely as if she could not speak in any other way.
"It's hardly worth while," answered the woman, but she lifted Emma's foot upon a cricket, and began to rub it.
"And I want to ask you something more," began Emma. "Where do you get those beautiful fish that we have on the table so often?"
"They come out of the water near by," answered the cook.
"Yes, of course; but I mean, does a fisherman bring them to you, or do you go yourself to fetch them?"
"That would be a queer thing, if I had to trot round a couple of hours before I could have fish for my frying-pan! There! your shoes are all clean again." And she laid the brush away.
"Does it take a couple of hours to go to the fisherman's?" asked Emma.
"Goodness me! I can't speak always as if I were on oath; if you want to know how far it is, you'd better go measure it yourself, miss," retorted the displeased woman.
"That's just what I want to do! Will you please tell me the way?" asked Emma; and she thanked the cook for brushing her shoes, like a little lady.
"You go directly down behind the house, as far as the main road; go along the road a little way, and then turn to the left along a narrow path, till you come to a clump of willows; there you'll find the fisherman's house."
With many thanks Emma ran off.
"She is thinking of going a-fishing herself, I'm sure," said the cook, looking after her.
Emma rushed into the garden to find Fani.
"Come along, come with me! I know something nice! We can do it now!" and, dragging the boy along with her, the impetuous girl told him that the day before she had seen a fisherman out in his boat on the river, and she had made an excuse to go into the kitchen to speak to the cook, because she knew that children were not allowed there unless they had an errand to do; and she had found out where the fisherman lived, and of course they could hire his boat. In that they could go out on the river, and she would keep the boat still while Fani took a sketch of the ruin. If he could not finish it the first time, they could go again and again. It wouldn't cost so much to hire the boat that they couldn't take it several times if necessary.
Fani was delighted. But there was one difficulty.
"Who will row us, Elsli? I don't know how, and the fisherman couldn't leave his work so long."
"I can row myself. I took four people out in a boat once, when I was making a visit, near a lake, to some friends of mamma's. I have often rowed about alone. You don't know how skilful I am."
Fani was quite satisfied. He never dreamed of questioning Emma's capability. They went down to the road, and, after looking about for some time and retracing their steps, they found at last the narrow foot-path leading to the left, and, after walking a little way, they saw before them the clump of willows at a short distance. It was now nearly evening, for they had been a long time finding the way. The path they had taken was twice as long as that by the river, by which Elsli went; but they knew nothing of that. Under the willows all was still; there was nothing to be seen beyond but more willows, and the sound of the rushing river came through the silence to their ears. The children came in among the trees till they could see the water that flowed beyond. There lay the boat not far from them, and behind the bushes a slender thread of blue smoke rising into the air showed them where the fisherman's hut was. A man was just going down to the edge of the water, and presently he began to hammer at something in the boat. Emma ran towards him, and Fani followed.
"Are you the fisherman?" asked Emma?
The man raised his head, and stopped hammering.
"Yes, I am; at your service," he answered, politely. "Do you want to buy some fish?"
Emma explained that they only wanted to hire a boat, just for an hour or two; not to go far away from the shore at all. The man looked doubtful. Fani looked like a steady little fellow. He ought to manage a boat; still, it was best to be prudent, so he asked,--
"Are you young people in the habit of rowing yourselves?"
"Oh, yes, it is not our first trip, by any means," said Emma. "We can take care of ourselves"; and Fani was no less confident.
The fisherman said it was too late to go that day; he should need the boat himself, and there was some mending to be done to it before it could be used. If they wanted it the next day, he would have it ready; they could take it themselves, if he was not there. They ought not to go far from shore, and the young gentleman could use the pole where the oars wouldn't serve; he would understand. Emma promised to be careful, and they promised to pay on their return; and these arrangements being completed to their immense satisfaction, the children walked happily back to Rosemount, eagerly discussing their plans on the way. At the same time Elsli came silent and alone along the little foot-path by the river. All three came from the same place, but they knew nothing of each other, for Elsli had not come out of the house till after the others had reached the road. In the garden they met, and asked each other whether the supper-bell had rung. As they spoke they heard it; and, running up the stone steps, they sat down to supper without farther questions, and each was glad that the others asked none.