Gritli's Children by Johanna Spyri
Chapter VII. An Unexpected Termination.
Directly after dinner Emma and Fani had started on their expedition. They had no trouble to-day in finding their way to the willows, and they went as quickly as they could, so that they could have a long afternoon, and yet get back in time for Oscar's Festival.
They found the boat ready for them; oars and pole all in position, and a seat in the middle. The boat was but lightly fastened to the shore, and the children sprang gayly into it. Emma took the oars and pushed off. She rowed well, and knew what she was about. She handled the boat skilfully, for she had often been out on the lake with her friend when the wind blew and the waves were high.
Fani took his seat in the stern, saying:--
"When you want my help, just say so, Emma. But I don't know anything at all about rowing."
"I shan't need you," answered Emma, bravely, as she pulled away.
Two things, however, she had not counted on. The boat was much heavier than that which she had used on the lake, and the swift current of the river was a very different thing to row against, from the quiet waters of a lake. Emma worked sturdily against the stream. She wanted to go out far enough to be in full sight of the ruined castle. She had arranged in her mind a plan for keeping the boat in place while Fani sketched. But she soon began to find herself growing very tired, while yet she made little head-way.
"Take the pole, Fani," she said, "and stick it firmly against the bottom and push." Fani did so, and the boat made an advance of several feet. "Again, again, Fani." Fani did his best.
"Now I'll row a bit farther into the middle of the river, then hold fast so that we shall not be carried down; here we are! there is the ruin, Fani! Now, Fani, stick the pole down, and I'll hold it and you can begin to sketch."
Fani stuck his pole manfully into the bottom of the river, but the rushing current seized it and threw it up again as if it had been a reed.
"Oh! oh!" he cried, "we shall be carried away!"
"You take one of the oars and we'll row back to the shore," said Emma, anxiously. "Come, be quick!"
But the stream seized the oar before Fani could take it from her, and it was swept away.
"What shall we do? There is no one to help us," cried Emma, beside herself. "Suppose the boat should upset!"
Faster and faster they were whirled along, the boat tossing like a nut-shell upon the waves.
The children sat still, although frightened almost to death.
"Fani, we are Los! who can help us?" screamed Emma. "Let us say our prayers. I have forgotten to say them ever since I came to Rosemount. I promised mamma not to forget; but I did. Do you think God will hear me now? Fani, you pray; you do it every day, I know."
"No; I thought Elsli would do it for me and for herself," said the boy hoarsely.
"That is no good; you must do it for yourself or God will not listen. He will only say, 'I do not know him,' when Elsli prays for you. Oh, if I had not forgotten to pray myself, he would not punish me so now!"
And then she sat silent, looking at the sky and praying from her heart that God would forgive her forgetfulness of him, and save her and Fani from the danger that threatened them.
"A steamboat! A steamboat! It is going to run us down!" shrieked Fani; and his fears were well grounded. With lightning speed, as it seemed, the great boat came rushing toward them like a huge giant, and in a few minutes the little boat would be engulfed in the swelling waves.
The children screamed; the steamer came nearer; it was close upon them; the boat was upset! At the same instant Emma was seized by a strong hand, lifted into the air, and then set down upon her feet on the deck of the steamer. Fani was saved, too, by another seaman, and both stood shivering with cold and fright, dripping with water, and soaked to the skin, but safe and sound. The passengers crowded about them.
Suddenly a tall, black-bearded man with angry eyes came toward them. It was the captain.
"What madness is this?" he thundered. "Do you think it is the business of steamboats to look out for little fools of fishermen? Whose fault would it have been if you had been run down and drowned?"
But as he looked at the two little dripping, miserable figures, his tone softened.
"Bring them below and give them something hot to drink," he said to one of the gaping by-standers. It was a mercy to get them away from all those staring eyes; they swallowed the steaming contents of the glass that was given them in the cabin without a word, though it burned their throats. They did not dare to sit down; they were too wet.
After a while the captain came down and asked where they came from, and where they were going in that "old fish-box."
Fani told the whole story without reserve. An expression of amusement passed over the captain's brown face more than once during this narration, and when he had heard all, he said kindly that they must get themselves dried off as best they could; he was going to stop at Cologne, and there they could take the train home again.
To reward him for saving them, Mrs. Stanhope could invite him to visit her house at the next vintage.
This was their second visit to Cologne; how different it was from the first one!
The captain's parting advice was that they should in future make their expeditions by land rather than by water; it was much safer, he said.
It was pretty dark by this time, and they had some trouble in finding the way to the station. They wandered from street to street inquiring their way, and at last found themselves again at the steamboat wharf, just where they had landed. They began to fear that they should lose the train and have to stay in the city all night. They set out again upon their search, and at last they came upon a policeman, who took pity upon them and led them through alleys and by-streets to the station, where they found that one train had just left, and they must wait two hours for the next. The little wanderers sat down outside the building to wait. They were wet and cold and hungry, but they did not complain of these minor troubles; their anxieties lay far deeper.
"I am dreadfully worried," said Fani, with a deep sigh.
"So am I, but I don't know exactly why," replied Emma.
"Well, I do," said the boy. "I'm perfectly sure that Mrs. Stanhope will send me home after this, and poor Elsli will have to go too, for she could never stay without me."
"Oh, that is dreadful!" cried Emma. She was conscience-stricken. It was a bad scrape, and it was mainly her fault. "Mrs. Stanhope is so kind," she went on hopefully, "perhaps she will not be so very angry."
Fani shook his head.
"You don't know about it, Emma. Of course Mrs. Stanhope is the greatest benefactress in the world. But she is very particular about our minding exactly what she tells us; and one of her principal rules is that we must never disturb the regularity of the household, and must keep punctually to just such hours; and now see what we have done! We shall not get home till twelve o'clock to-night, midnight! Probably they are hunting for us everywhere. How will it all turn out? Oh, dear! if she sends us off, there's an end of drawing and painting for me! That's all over"; and Fani looked despairing.
Emma felt that he knew Mrs. Stanhope far better than she did, and her courage began to fail. They sat in silence till the train came along. At the end of their journey they had a long walk from the station to Rosemount, and they stumbled along in the dark, frightened and trembling, and scarcely exchanging a word. Their hearts beat more and more as they neared the house. As they entered the court-yard, the watch-dog began to bark, but he stopped when he heard Fani's voice.
The great house-door was opened, and Aunt Clarissa came out to meet them from the lighted hall.
"Is it you?" she cried. "Thank God!" and she drew them into the house.
Mrs. Stanhope had not gone to bed. She was standing just inside the door.
"Now you may tell me all about it," she said, looking seriously at the children, who presented a shocking appearance. "So, you've been in the water! Where are the men?"
The children stammered out that they had seen no men. They had just come up from the station.
Mrs. Stanhope shook her head.
"Some one must be sent to the fisherman's hut to tell the men to stop the search," she said coldly. "I will leave the care of the children to more skilful hands"; and she withdrew without more words.
Aunt Clarissa put them to bed directly, and a big pitcher of hot tea was brought to each of them, from which they had to drink one steaming cup after another, till they were warmed through. Then Clarissa sat down first by Emma's bed, and then by Fani's, to learn exactly what had happened, and whether they had met with any injuries that would need a doctor's attention.
In the midst of assurances that they were not injured, and of attempts to explain what had happened, the two tired miscreants fell asleep, and Aunt Clarissa went to her room with thankful heart that things were no worse.
The next morning Fani was determined, in spite of his weariness of limb, to be punctual at the breakfast table. He sprang out of bed the moment that he waked, and dressed an hour too early. He went into the garden to listen to the birds; he thought their happy singing might make him happier. As he was walking up and down, he saw the fisherman coming into the court-yard. He went to meet him. The man stopped and lifted his cap politely. "I know what you have come for," said Fani, taking out his purse; "how much do I owe you?"
The man turned his cap about in his hands, as if he were turning his thoughts over too.
"I don't want to be unreasonable," he said presently, "and I don't suppose a young gentleman like you knows how much a boat with all its belongings is worth. I cannot say less than eighty marks; I shall lose at that, but I will not ask more."
Fani stood thunder-struck. Of course, as the boat was lost, he must make it good. But eighty marks! He had never even seen so much money as that. He was speechless. The fisherman looked thoughtfully at him. Presently he said modestly:--
"I can understand that you cannot pay me the money yourself; you will have to ask your mother for it. I will come again to-morrow."
"No, no!" cried Fani. "I will bring it to you as soon as I get it. I will certainly come," he added, as he saw the man's disappointed look. "I shall keep my word; only I can't say exactly when."
It seemed as if the man had something more to say; but he swallowed it down, and went away, muttering to himself, "No boat! and no money to buy another!"
Fani ran back into the house. He looked at Emma's door to see whether her boots were still outside, but they had disappeared; so he tapped on the door and said softly:--
"Come out, Emma, I have something to say to you."
"What is the matter? Has Mrs. Stanhope been talking to you?" asked Emma, in a low tone, as she opened the door.
"No," said Fani, "it's not that"; and he drew her into the garden, to an arbor in a far-away corner, and there he told her about the eighty marks that were owing for the lost boat. Emma was greatly excited.
"We can never in the world get together so much as eighty marks! What can we do?" she cried in a tone of anguish.
"I don't know. We can't ask Mrs. Stanhope for a lot of money like that, after all that we have done to displease her. Can't you think of any way? If I only knew some one to borrow of! Oh, don't you know of anybody, Emma?"
Emma had sunk upon a bench, and her eyes looked as if they would start out of her head; she was trying so hard to see some way out of the dilemma.
Fred came running down the walk. He wanted to know what they were about the night before, but they had no time to answer, for just then the bell rang for breakfast.
The meal was not a merry one. The children were all embarrassed, and they knew why; they were all conscious that they had not behaved well to their hostess.
Mrs. Stanhope looked at them inquiringly, but said not a word. Aunt Clarissa nervously buttered large slices of bread as fast as she could; the dish was piled high with them, for no one ate much.
As Mrs. Stanhope left the table, she turned to Fani and said:--
"Go into the library and wait for me. I want to speak to you."
Fani grew white; Emma, red. "It's coming now," they said to themselves.
As Mrs. Stanhope opened the door to leave the room, she was knocked against by a house-maid who was entering in great haste.
"Excuse me, madam," she said. "I was in such a hurry. Something else has happened. A servant has just come from the Crown Prince to say that the young gentleman for whom Master Oscar ordered a room there has not been at home all night; and this morning the shoemaker told them at the hotel that he was with the young man himself last evening, and saw him running like a crazy fellow down towards the river."
It was now Oscar's turn to grow pale.
Aunt Clarissa sent the maid away, saying that she would speak to the hotel servant herself. She was afraid that Lina would let out the secret of Fred's untidy room if she were allowed to go on.
Mrs. Stanhope looked very serious.
"I don't understand all this," she said, turning to Clarissa; "but if the young stranger has anything to do with Oscar, I will be responsible for his bill at the hotel." And she left the room.
Emma instantly rushed to the school-room, seized her portfolio, and began to write as fast as her pen could go.
Fani had been sitting for some time in the library, awaiting with a beating heart the coming of Mrs. Stanhope. When the door opened, he sprang to his feet; he had learned that that was the proper thing to do when a lady entered the room. Mrs. Stanhope took a seat on the sofa, and motioned him to take a cricket and sit down by her.
"Now tell me all about it, Fani," she began. "Tell me the exact truth about what happened yesterday. What made you think of going out on the water, and how did you manage it? Tell me the whole story just as it was. Keep nothing back."
Fani obeyed. He went way back to the plans which Emma and he had made before he left home so that he might become an artist. How pleased he had been to take drawing-lessons, and how they made him love drawing more and more. How glad Emma had been at his progress, and how she had urged him to tell Mrs. Stanhope how he felt about his future career. Now came the most important point, and Fani related it very clearly. He wished to make a picture of the old ruin, because if he got a prize for it he thought Mrs. Stanhope would look more favorably on his adoption of art as a business; and Emma had thought out a way of getting a good view of it from the river. Then followed the mishap, which occurred because Emma did not know the strength of the current, nor understand how different the river was from the lake on which she had been in the habit of rowing. Fani told the whole story faithfully. Mrs. Stanhope listened in silence to the end, and then said briefly,--
"Very well; you may go, Fani."
In the hall behind one of the pillars stood Emma, impatient to hear the result of the interview.
"Well? well?" she asked eagerly.
"Well; it's just as it was before; I don't know any more than I did."
"Did she scold you very hard? Did she say anything about me? For I was the one to blame."
"No, indeed; Mrs. Stanhope never scolds; but she is very angry with me, I know, for she did not speak to me when I had told her all about it. Generally she talks a good deal to me about all sorts of things; even when I have done something to displease her. I am sure there is no help for us."
Emma sighed. She knew too well how much she was to blame for this unfortunate state of things.
Three days passed. The house was more quiet than it had been before since the children came. A cloud was over them all. No one laughed or talked freely or cared for amusement. All seemed waiting for some unpleasant thing that was going to happen.
Early in the morning of the fourth day, a letter was brought to Mrs. Stanhope, containing an enclosure for the children. The letter was from their mother. She expressed her gratitude to Mrs. Stanhope for all her kindness, and for the pleasure the children had enjoyed at Rosemount. Then followed apologies and regrets for the trouble and annoyance that the visit must have caused Mrs. Stanhope. And Mrs. Stein closed by saying that they had too long trespassed on the indulgence of their kind hostess, and begged her to set a time when it would be convenient to her for them to take their leave.
The enclosure for the children contained three letters from their aunt. Emma tore hers open first. A banknote met her delighted eyes. She ran out of the room, and called Fani. "She has saved us!" she cried. "Oh, isn't aunty an angel from heaven!" Fani's face shone with pleasure and surprise. Emma thrust the money into his hand.
"Take it, and run to the fisherman's. I must read my letter"; and she ran off to the arbor.
After an affectionate greeting it ran thus;--
"It is a crying shame, my dear girl, that this delightful visit, full of pleasures that may never fall to your lot again, should have been spoiled by each of you three children, only because of your disobedience. Especially you and Oscar. Your father and mother gave you both particular warning against what you were not to do. You both set to work to see how you could manage to obey in all the trivial details, and yet carry out your own plans in essentials. You both knew very well what you were about, and have well deserved the unpleasant consequences of your actions. I trust that you have both received a lasting lesson. How much worse the results might have been, dear Emma, we do not dare to think. We can only guess, though you do not tell us that you had a very narrow escape. We trust that you will show your gratitude to God for it by never again straying into forbidden paths. I send you the money you asked for, in order to spare Mrs. Stanhope any trouble about it. Fani showed a proper sense of his own folly and of his obligations to her when he said he would make any sacrifice rather than ask her for it. I do not lend you the money. It is a gift. But do not run in debt again. Another time I might not be able to help you. We shall all be glad to see you at home again."
In her letter to Oscar, aunty wrote that he deserved a much worse punishment than he had received, for his wilful misinterpretation of his father's warning, obeying the letter, rather than the spirit, and for his obstinacy about the motto. The letter then continued:--
"No notice from the police nor from the court of justice has been sent to your father; but a complaint has been lodged against you from another quarter. Only three days after he went from home, Feklitus came back again, without bag or baggage, as if he had fled for his life. He told a terrible tale of some scrape into which you had led him, and from which he had got away safe only by his own most skilful management. On the evening of that unlucky Festival he had scampered away from his captors with all his might, flung himself into a railway carriage, and, travelling all night, had not stopped till he reached home. Now you see, dear Oscar, that you have something to answer for in this affair; for even if Feklitus was unnecessarily frightened, it does not alter the fact that you got him involved in a most unpleasant way, and his parents are naturally very angry with you. You must at any rate take measures to set Mrs. Bickel's mind at rest She told me yesterday that she had lost her sleep and her appetite, from thinking about the beautiful leather trunk, and the six new suits of clothes, which she has no doubt the waiters at the Crown Prince are sharing among themselves. You must go to the hotel, pack all the clothes carefully, lock the trunk, and send it to him. Send the keys in a separate package, and then you will have removed one cause of their not unreasonable displeasure."
With Fred, aunty pathetically condoled on the loss of his collection; and then she added:--
"Yet you see, my dear Fred, you are to blame after all; for I told you not to put your creatures where they would displease Mrs. Stanhope, if she should see them. I could not specify every such place, but I trusted to your commonsense to tell you that beetles and caterpillars do not belong in a writing-desk! You are such an insatiable collector! You will have to learn moderation. If you had only been satisfied with a reasonable number of the finest specimens, you would not have needed so many boxes; I am very glad that Fani hindered you from asking for them in a house where so many kindnesses were being shown to all of you. It ill becomes guests to make unreasonable demands. After all, dear Fred, I hope you will be able to bring home a few treasures, notwithstanding your great loss, and we will enjoy them together."
These letters were a great relief to all; but some uneasiness still remained. They did not know yet how Mrs. Stanhope would treat their several delinquencies, when she knew all about them, and, besides, they were homesick.
"What about going home?" they asked each other; and none of the letters had mentioned the subject. They were disappointed.
As to Fani, he began to wonder what Mrs. Stanhope's plans were for him. When would she talk with him again? Would he have to go back to the factory? She had never since that day talked with him as she used to do; but often he was aware that she was looking at him, long and thoughtfully.
In Elsli's heart, too, anxiety reigned supreme; not so much for herself as for Fani. Mrs. Stanhope was already displeased with him; and when she found out that she had been doing wrong too, Elsli could not but fear that her displeasure would be so severe that they should both be sent away.