Gritli's Children by Johanna Spyri
Chapter VI. Aunty is in Demand Again.
On the following day, at eleven o'clock, Elsli entered the house at Oak-ridge as quietly as a little mouse; so quietly that Nora did not hear her come into the house, and was startled when she suddenly saw her standing just inside the door of the sitting-room. Elsli had brushed her light brown hair carefully back from her forehead, leaving only a few soft curls to wave about her eyes. Her mother had allowed her to put on a fresh white apron and a bright kerchief, as she was going among the gentry. The little pale face had a somewhat anxious look, and her big blue eyes had a timid expression as she glanced toward Nora, doubting whether she ought to come into the room or not.
"Come in," said Nora; "are you the girl who is coming to do our errands?"
Elsli answered in so gentle a voice, and her whole air was so winning, that Nora felt instantly drawn towards her, and she stretched out her hand, saying, "Come here, and sit down by me, and let us have a little talk. Isn't your name Elsli?" she continued; "mamma has some errands for you this morning; sewing-silk and pencils and eggs to get; but can't you sit down and talk with me a little first, or will that give you too little time for them, so that you'll have to hurry and so you'll get tired."
"Oh, no, the errands will not tire me," replied Elsli. "I get tired at home, because I have to carry the little boys about so much."
"Then you do know what it is to feel tired, very tired?"
"Yes, indeed, I know only too well. I am almost always tired, and sometimes I think I should like to lie down and never get up again. Hanseli is getting dreadfully heavy, and I can scarcely carry him any longer, but he won't walk, and only screams and kicks if I put him down."
"I'm glad to find somebody who knows what it is to be tired; now we can talk about it, can't we? Don't you feel sometimes as if you never wanted to stand up again, and wouldn't you like to have something happen that would make you over new and take all the tired feelings away?"
"But nothing can happen; you only just have to get up again."
"I mean something different from usual; wouldn't you like to lie down and die, Elsli?"
"Why, no; I don't think I should like to die. I never thought of that. What makes you think of it?"
"I suppose you don't know what it will be like. Clarissa told me all about it, and we have talked it over a great many times together. I never talk to mamma about it, because she always begins to cry. But I will tell you, and then you will be glad too to think about going to heaven. I'll tell you the pretty song that Clarissa taught me. Would you like to hear it now?"
Elsli would have been glad to hear the song, but at that moment Mrs. Stanhope entered the room. She was much surprised to see the two little girls already on such good terms, and still more so when Nora said:--
"Mamma dear, there is really no hurry about the silk and the pencils, nor about the eggs either; I don't care for any of them just now; it will do as well by and by. I'd rather have Elsli stay here with me."
Her mother was well pleased, and answered,--
"Certainly; Elsli can stay with you now; it will be time enough for the errands when she comes in the afternoon."
The two children were equally delighted; Nora at the prospect of pleasant intercourse to enliven her weary hours, and Elsli at the thought of sitting in peace and quiet by this friendly new acquaintance.
As Mrs. Stanhope sat down with them, nothing more could be said about the Song of Paradise, and Nora must put off till another time her account of all that Clarissa had told her about the happiness of the heavenly life. So at first there was silence between them, but then she asked Elsli about her life at home, and Elsli told about her little brothers and the baby, and then about Fani; and once started upon that topic she hardly knew where to stop. She told how kind he was to her, and how clever at his lessons, how he helped her with her exercises, and she did not know how she could live without him. If she was ever so tired and miserable, it always rested her and made her happy to have Fani come home; for he was so full of hope and courage that it seemed as if her burdens were lifted off, and she felt as gay as he did, while he described the delightful things that they would do and see together some day.
Mrs. Stanhope listened with pleasure to the soft-voiced child whose blue eyes grew more and more tender as she talked on about her brother. As for Nora, she did not lose a word of it all, and evidently lived it over in imagination with the deepest interest, and when her mother said:--
"Now, Elsli, it is time for you to go; we shall expect you back at four o'clock," Nora added:--
"And tell your mother that you will not be at home till eight; you will have supper here."
With a happy heart the little maiden went off to school, and as soon as school was over, she darted off, not even stopping to speak to Emma, lest she should be detained. As she was hurrying along the path towards Oak-ridge, she heard some one calling to her,--
"Wait, wait, I say; why don't you stop when I tell you to?" It was Feklitus who was running after her:--
"I can't stop, I shall be late," called Elsli over her shoulder, and ran on; Feklitus followed for a while, very angry, and sending fearful threats after her; but he grew soon out of breath, and when he stopped to catch his breath and cough, he saw that she was quite beyond the reach of even his voice, and that farther chase was useless.
As for Elsli, she never drew a long breath till she had reached the house at Oak-ridge. Nora had been watching for her from the window, and she called out eagerly:--
"Come in, Elsli; come here and rest; you shouldn't run so hard." She found Nora alone, and Nora told her, with great satisfaction, that her mother had gone out for a walk at her request, and that they were to be left together for the whole evening.
"So now," she added, "I shall have a chance to tell you a great deal that you have never thought about; that is, how delightful it will be when we leave earth and go to heaven. Oh! oh!" she continued, growing more and more excited as she went on, "who can tell how beautiful it will be? Far more lovely than anything we have ever seen; and there will be no sick people there, and no one is tired there; everybody is happy, and there is a river with flowers growing along its banks, and--but wait; I will tell you Clarissa's song, and then you'll know about it."
Nora's great eyes grew more sparkling, and the red spot in her pale cheeks burned more than ever, as she recited the Song of Paradise; while Elsli listened with growing wonder to her excited tones. It seemed as if she saw the beauty that the song described, and her voice trembled with emotion. When she ceased with the last words, "The sick are well again," Elsli sat silent and motionless, oppressed with awe and with this wholly new experience, while Nora seemed absorbed in her own thoughts.
"Don't you like the song?" asked she at last.
"Oh, yes, indeed!" said Elsli decidedly.
"Wouldn't you like to go with me, where it is so beautiful?"
"Are you going?" asked Elsli.
"Oh, yes, very soon. Clarissa told me long ago about it; and how Philo went, and I should go too. She has talked to me again and again about it; and I long to go, because no one is ever sick or tired there. And, when I go, wouldn't you like to go with me, Elsli?"
"Yes, I should like it," said Elsli, catching the enthusiasm of the beautiful hope which shone in Nora's eyes. "But can we go whenever we want to?"
"Oh, no; the good God calls us when our turn comes. I only want to know if you want to go, as I do, so that we can talk about it together. And perhaps we shall be called at the same time; and how delightful it would be to go together and walk in the bright gardens, and pick the roses and lilies by the shining river, and never be sick or tired any more, but be happy forever!"
So Nora talked on about the heavenly land, and Elsli's eyes grew larger as the glories of the future life were pictured to her, and a wholly new world opened before her. Time flew rapidly by, and they did not notice its passage.
Meantime, in the house of Dr. Stein, life was moving on in a much more lively manner. After school, Oscar, Emma, and Fred had started off, each in a different direction. Each was occupied with his own plans. Fred took the road towards home. He had a very interesting description of a rare little animal to read to his aunt, and he was very glad that the others were bound elsewhere, and he had the way clear before him. When he saw Feklitus running after Elsli in hot haste, he called out, with a sarcastic laugh:--
"Hallo, Feklitus! it's a fine thing to have somebody like Elsli to make use of, isn't it?" For he had noticed that when Feklitus couldn't understand anything in his lessons, he always went to Elsli secretly for help, for he didn't want the big boys to know that he couldn't get along without it.
Content with this scathing sarcasm, Fred ran on to the house, where through the open door of the kitchen he saw his aunt standing by the table, stirring something in a pudding-bowl. She was reading aloud from a paper that lay on the table before her. "Take four large eggs, two spoonfuls of flour, and the rind of a lemon"; and she started back as Fred suddenly sprang in with a shout of delight at his good-fortune at finding her alone. "This is splendid, aunty! Now, just hear this!"
He seated himself on a high stool, spread his book upon his knees and began:--
"You know that papa once caught a bittern. Well, I want to read you a description of it. The 'bittern, Stellaris,'--are you listening, aunty?"
"Oh, yes, I'm listening. Go on."
"--'is of a reddish yellow color, with spots of black. It makes a strange noise in the night; usually Krawy! Krawy! but sometimes Uplumb! Uplumb! The hen lays four biggish eggs.' Do you know what I am reading, aunty? What was the last thing?"
"Yes, yes, I heard. 'The hen lays four biggish eggs,'--two spoonfuls of flour, and the rind of a lemon," said his aunt, unconsciously speaking out what was on her mind.
Fred looked up anxiously, for she had spoken quite seriously, without a trace of fun in her tones.
"Oh, I didn't mean that," she said, laughing, as she observed her mistake. "I was only thinking more of my receipt than of your bittern, Fred."
"I'm glad you don't really think that birds lay flour and lemon-peel," said Fred, and went on:--
"'The flesh tastes of--'"
But the description was interrupted. Oscar and Emma came bursting into the kitchen together, and while Oscar stood as close to his aunt, as he could, on the right, Emma pulled her head down on the left and began whispering into her ear. Between the two, she had hard work to keep on with her pudding.
"Only think, aunty," began Oscar, "Feklitus says now that he won't have our motto on the banner, that he has heard another that he likes a great deal better. What do you say, aunty? What shall we do about it? You know how cross he is when he is opposed, and he'll break off altogether."
"Emma, do be still a moment; I will listen to you presently. Now, Oscar, what is this verse that Feklitus proposes; let us hear it and see if it is a good one."
"Liberty, Equality, Fraternity; With song and the juice of the vine,"
"Is that all?"
"Well, we cannot put that on the banner, at any rate," said his aunt decidedly. "Tell Feklitus that there isn't even a verb in that motto, and it won't do. I advise you to ask him to make the speech at the festival, and then perhaps he'll drop the question of the motto."
"What a splendid idea! We never even thought of a speech! that's just the thing!" and Oscar rushed away in a state of great enthusiasm.
"Now, aunty," cried Emma, in a tone of relief as he disappeared, "it's my turn now. Don't you think I am right?"
"I didn't hear exactly what you said, Emma," said her aunt; "I haven't the gift of hearing different things with different ears at the same time."
"What I say is that it's a shame for Fani to have to go to work in that factory, and not have any time to paint and draw. I am sure he ought to be a painter, right away; and if he goes into the factory he can't get out till it's too late."
"But, Emma, it's not such an easy thing to become a painter as you seem to think. And, then, who knows whether Fani has really talent enough; it needs much more than merely to be able to copy nicely at school, you know."
"But, aunty, I only want you to say that it would be much better for Fani to be a painter, if he can, than to go into the factory. Now, don't you really and truly think so, aunty?"
Emma was so pressing that her aunt could not avoid answering her; so she said kindly, "If Fani had any real prospect of becoming a painter, I should certainly think well of it; but I do not see that he has any."
"May I go on now, aunty?" asked Fred; "it seems to me that Emma is talking a vast deal of nonsense, as usual."
But Emma was not to be put off so.
"Aunty," she said, "what is a decorator?"
"A person who decorates; that is, adorns or beautifies. Why do you ask, my child?"
"It means a scene-painter too; a man who paints scenery for the stage," said Fred.
"Yes, that's it," said Emma, and she scampered away.
Fred sat silent for a while, and then he said:--
"Aunty dear, did you notice how queerly Emma behaved? Do you suppose she is thinking of going on the stage?"
"No, indeed, my dear boy," said his aunt calmly; "she has no idea of that kind, you may be sure."
"Well, take my word for it, she has something out of the way in her head. She's not often very particular to know the meaning of a word; she's not very keen after knowledge. I'm sure there's something in the wind."
There was no time for more; for a sudden familiar shriek struck their ears.
"A snake! oh, a snake! a snake!"
Fred clapped his hand to his pocket, and then ran out-of-doors.
"Now I can finish the pudding," thought aunty; but another still wilder scream betokened such dire alarm that she threw down her spoon and followed.
It was Rikli, of course, who was standing half-way down the steps leading up to the back door, looking down on a pretty little green snake on the step below, that was wriggling along as fast as possible, trying to make its escape. Fred was seated quietly on the top step, waiting for the noise to subside.
"How absurd you are, Rikli," said her aunt gently; "if you are so afraid of that harmless little creature, why don't you turn round and run away?"
"It will run after me, and catch me! it is a snake!" cried the child, jumping up and down.
"Fred, take the little thing away," said his aunt; "I suppose it belongs to you."
"Yes; I had it in my pocket, and I suppose it crept out while I was reading. But I think Rikli ought to be taught not to behave so ridiculously. I thought I'd wait a little while and see if she wouldn't get over it."
Their aunt agreed that it was high time for Rikli to conquer her foolish fears, but she doubted whether Fred's method was a very wise one. Something must be done about it, but not just this; so she bade Rikli to come up the steps, and Fred to carry off the offender, and let her finish her pudding.