Gritli's Children by Johanna Spyri
Chapter III. In the Village and in the School.
The village of Buchberg consisted of several scattered farms, and of groups of houses and cottages that peeped out from among thriving fruit trees. Only a few houses stood near the church; the school-house, the sexton's house, the substantial old-fashioned dwelling of the mayor of the little community, and two or three peasants' cottages. Dr. Stein's house stood quite by itself at a little distance from the others, on a slight elevation, quite surrounded by trees. The biggest buildings in all Buchberg stood on the principal street of the town; these were the fine house and the enormous factory of Mr. Bickel, who had built them both.
Between the street and the dwelling lay a sunny flower-garden; not a tree nor a shrub was planted in it, lest the grandeur of the mansion should be concealed in the least from public view. Here lived the wealthy manufacturer, with his wife and their only son. The family occupied only the lower floor; upstairs the six great splendid rooms were always closed and their shining green blinds always drawn down. No one ever entered there except Mrs. Bickel, who now and then came up to air and to dust and to admire them. Her little boy was allowed to go with her sometimes; but he had to leave his shoes at the door; and he stood just inside, half awe-struck in the gloom; staring at the unused chairs and the stiff furniture. Mr. Bickel was a very important person in the village, for in his factory he employed a great many persons, both young and old; he was very clever at finding out what people were good for, and knew just how much they could work, and what they could do best, and how much they were worth to him. It was said that whenever a child was born in Buchberg, Mr. Bickel began at once to calculate how many years would pass before it would be old enough to be put upon his pay-roll. And almost all the children knew that their future destiny would surely bring them under Mr. Bickel's management, and they learned early to stand respectfully aside when he came along the street, with his thick gold-headed cane, and his shining watch chain with the bunch of seals, that shook and glittered and jingled majestically from afar.
From this fine house every morning came young Feklitus, Mr. Bickel's son, and through the sunny garden and up the street he went on his way to school. Over his back was slung a leather satchel, wondrously embroidered with the big initials "F.B.," surrounded with a garland of beautiful roses; a Christmas gift from his mother.
"Feklitus" was only a nickname, and this is the way it originated. His grandfather was a tailor by trade; a person of very small stature and obscure position; altogether a very humble personage to be the father of a great man, such as his son afterwards became, and, because he was so diminutive in every way, he went, in the neighborhood, by the nickname of "Tailorkin." His only son was christened Felix, and as the common nickname of Felix is Fekli, the boy became universally known as "Tailorkin-Fekli." This was very displeasing to Felix, who early in life determined to make something of himself, and who soon began to rise and grow rich. The Buchbergers, however, were not disposed to drop the name which amused them, merely because it vexed the owner; so even now, although when they met the great man they always addressed him with due respect as Mr. Bickel, yet behind his back he was still Tailorkin-Fekli. He suspected this underhand familiarity, and was not a little disturbed by it.
When, after he had become a great man, and had built himself a splendid new house, he had a son born to him, he determined to find a name for the child which could not be tampered with as his own had been; and he delayed the baptism as long as possible, while searching for one to suit his purpose. It so happened that about this time he was called upon in his capacity as School-Inspector to be present at the yearly examinations at the school-house; and he heard the teacher explain to the children the meaning of the name Fortunatus. No sooner did this name reach Mr. Bickel's ear, than he was struck with its appropriateness to his son. Was not the boy destined to be the fortunate heir to his father's wealth and position? He went home full of satisfaction and announced to his wife that the long-sought name was found, and the child might be taken to church for baptism. So Fortunatus he was christened; and Mr. Bickel felt sure now that the hated nickname would be dropped and soon forgotten.
Not so; for as soon as the boy went to school, his playmates decided that Fortunatus was far too long and pretentious a name for common use; so they peremptorily shortened it to "Tus"; then, adding it to the father's appellation, it became "Tailorkin-Fekli-Tus." The first word of this lengthy and awkward combination was soon dropped off, and the other two were combined into one word and became Feklitus. With this the critics were satisfied, and long usage fixed the name so completely on the boy that at last very few recalled the fine name Fortunatus, and almost every one supposed that he had been christened Feklitus.
Oscar Stein and Feklitus Bickel both sat at the head of the sixth class in the village school. This odd arrangement came about in this way. When, six years before, both entered the school together, Oscar seated himself at once at the head of the bench; for he was a boy born to lead, and never thought of being second anywhere. But Feklitus came and stood in front of him, saying "That is my place"; for his father had told him that the first place was no more than his right. Oscar would not yield, and the case came before the teacher, who, finding that Oscar was the senior by two days, decided in his favor. Feklitus, however, was not to be put down so; he would not sit below Oscar, so he took the first place on the next bench, and, as the class was so large a one as to occupy both benches, the teacher allowed the affair to be settled so, and so it had continued ever since. And thus both boys were first.
Oscar was well pleased with this arrangement, because it brought next him a boy whom he much preferred to Feklitus; Fani, the son of Heiri, the day-laborer. Fani was a lively and courageous fellow, who was always ready to join Oscar in any undertaking he might have in view, no matter how bold it might be. Oscar even thought Fani far better looking than the broad-shouldered Feklitus; who, in his fine cloth suit with the high collar that made his short neck look as if it was no neck at all, was boxed up so stiff and tight that he could hardly move; while Fani was slender and nimble as a lizard, and, though he wore all summer long nothing more than a shirt and linen trousers, yet he looked so slight and so graceful that no one noticed how sparely he was clad. When with both hands he tossed his long dark brown locks back from his forehead, and looked about with great shining expectant eyes, then instantly some new plan of comradeship darted into Oscar's busy brain; some new play in which Fani would be of use, either in the role of Artist, or Noble Bandit, or Tragedy-King. Oscar was always planning the establishment of something grand; a Club, or Association, or Band of Fellowship of some kind; and he needed for carrying out his numerous and complicated projects, a skilful, intelligent, and enthusiastic assistant like Fani.
Feklitus, on the other hand, was nothing but a hindrance to these schemes, because he would go into a thing only if he was allowed to take the principal part in it, and he always behaved as if he had devised the plan himself as much as Oscar. Still, it was necessary to take him in, and ensure his favor; as otherwise he would take his whole party into opposition, and ensure the failure of the enterprise. For the class was divided into two nearly equal parties, and indeed this party-spirit had spread so far that the whole school, even down to the primary class, was divided into two camps, the Oscarians and the Feklitusians. Oscar had on his side all the independent fellows, all the sons of well-to-do peasants, all the sons of mechanics who were to follow in their fathers' footsteps, and all those whose future vocation was decided on, from the coachman to the teacher.
All the other boys were followers of Feklitus; for he had a terrible phrase, which he used with great effect, when he wished to press them into his ranks; it was, "Just you wait till you come into our factory!" It was curious to see how this would work like a charm with the wavering boys; for the very indefiniteness of what would happen when they came to the factory, lent a mysterious force to this dark threat. But no threat, no promise, no hint had the slightest effect upon Fani. He was to enter the factory the coming Easter, at the close of the school-year; and this he knew very well; but he adhered firmly to Oscar's side, and when Feklitus would angrily call out to him, "Just you wait," he would turn on his heel, and answer laughing, "Oh yes! I'll wait! I'm not in the least hurry"; an answer which did not lessen Feklitus' anger, and which made him long for the time when the boy should be "in the factory," when he promised himself that things should not go too easily for him.
Still, in spite of all these little jealousies, the two parties generally worked peaceably together; for it was important for Oscar to be on the right side of Feklitus, as his plans required large numbers for their successful execution. Just now they were on a most cordial footing. Oscar had started the idea of a grand Musical Festival. Every one in the school who wished might take part, and after all necessary preparations they were to have a grand celebration. The assistance of Feklitus had been secured by giving him a prominent place in the arrangements for the great occasion. The embroidered banner, which was to be a salient feature, was sure to be ready, since Oscar's aunt had undertaken it, which was quite a different thing from being dependent on Emma. Fani was to be the bearer. To-day the motto must be selected for it, and at the close of school several of the boys were stationed at the door, to summon the others, as they came out, to a meeting for the decision of this important matter. On a knoll in a field near by, the boys assembled; and then Oscar announced that he had found a pretty couplet, suitable to the occasion, which he proposed as a motto for the banner, and he read in a loud voice:--
"Music the truest pleasure gives, So sing we merrily."
But Feklitus did not approve. He said that he had often been present on occasions of this kind and had seen many prettier mottoes than this. He could recall one which he thought ought to be chosen.
"Our Fatherland shall ever live; May freedom never die!"
Oscar said that this motto would do very well for some patriotic occasion, but was not exactly the thing for a musical festival. Feklitus would not yield, and called on his followers to stand by him and his motto. Then followed loud discussion on both sides, which soon grew into an uproar. The Oscarians and Feklitusians screamed so loud that not one word could be distinguished from another. Presently Oscar seized Feklitus by the arm, and drew him aside out of the mob.
"Don't you see, you mar-plot, that this hubbub is all your fault? and that you are very provoking? What do you gain by it? Nothing. What do you lose? Everything. But to show you that I am not like you, I propose to you to put the two couplets together, and use both. Luckily they rhyme. See how this will do:--
"Music the truest pleasure gives; So sing we merrily-- 'Our Fatherland shall ever live, And Freedom never die.'"
Feklitus was pacified; which was fortunate, for nothing would have induced him to give up his verse, whose great merit in his eyes was just that it was his; he had remembered it, repeated it, proposed it; so it was naturally better than any other could be. The meeting was informed of the compromise, applauded it, and immediately adjourned, dispersing in all directions, and making the quiet summer evening resound with their merry shouts. Oscar alone went his way with an air of deep depression, and with anger in his heart. Fani had again disappeared directly after school, as he had often done before, and had not waited for the meeting, though he knew how much Oscar cared to have him there. Fani certainly took everything too lightly, Oscar thought; it was his only great fault; he went too easily from one thing to another; and Oscar knew too who aided him in this changeableness, and had indeed just the same failing herself; and that was his own sister Emma. Indeed, the girl was the worse of the two, for she was continually proposing new schemes, and urging Fani to help her carry them out. Oscar knew all this, and was very much vexed with Fani for yielding so easily to Emma's persuasions. And to think of his disappearing so this afternoon, when he had relied on his support at the meeting! It was too provoking!
As Oscar drew near home, he came suddenly upon his brother Fred, who was kneeling down in the vegetable garden and digging in the earth with both hands, as if seeking a hidden treasure.
"Where is Emma?" asked Oscar; adding hurriedly, "Oh, don't touch me with those hands!"
"Well, I should scarcely mistake you for a grub, and that's what I want to 'touch' with these hands," said Fred, rather scornfully. "As to Emma, I don't know where she is; but one thing I do know, and that is that one of you two has carried off all the paper again, so that when a fellow wants to do his exercises he may whistle for it! I know that much."
"I haven't used any," said Oscar; "but Emma is getting up some new scheme; I am sure of that, and I suppose she has taken the paper. I don't know what will happen if somebody doesn't put a stop to her carrying-on!"
With which negative kind of a prophecy, Oscar went into the house.