Gritli's Children by Johanna Spyri
Chapter VII. What Oscar Founded and What Emma Planned.
Feklitus took very kindly to the idea of making the speech at the Musical Festival, and told his parents at once of the coming event. This announcement made a great sensation in the household of Mr. Bickel, who at once ordered a new suit and a new pair of boots for the boy; and both parents determined to go and hear him speak. A change had come over the boy since this proposal had been made to him. He became very silent and went about with his head bowed and his brows knit as if oppressed with heavy thoughts.
One afternoon he came out of school and made one great spring from the upper step to the ground. It was not from joyfulness of heart that he made this leap, but because the sudden pressure of those who came behind him gave him an irresistible impulse, and he could not stop for the single steps. He did not go on with the other boys, but turned round the corner of the school-house, and waited there till all the girls had passed out, in groups of two and three, and, last of all, Elsli came hurrying along alone; she had been delayed by waiting to write out her exercise for the next day. Suddenly she felt herself seized from behind and held fast.
"Let me go, Feklitus," she cried; "I am in a hurry; Nora is waiting for me."
"I want to ask you something first," said the boy, "and then you may go."
He spoke in a masterful voice, and held fast to the child's frock.
"Tell me this; if you were going to make a speech at a musical festival, how should you begin?"
"What a stupid question, Feklitus! when you know perfectly well that I should never do such a thing!" And Elsli tried to pull her dress away from the boy's hand; but he held her fast.
"I didn't say you would; but suppose you did,--you can suppose anything,--how would you begin?"
"I don't know, I'm sure; I never thought anything about it in my life."
"Come, now, if you don't tell me, I'll keep you here till after dark. Come; I'll just make a beginning, to start you. Begin: Highly respected gentlemen and brothers--now, what next?"
"Let me go; I really ought to go. I have no idea what to say next."
"What an obstinate girl you are!" cried Feklitus angrily; "I'll punish you for this before long; when you come into the factory, you'll catch it; you see if you don't!"
This vague threat frightened Elsli the more from its very vagueness; so she thought for a moment, and then began;--
"Highly respected gentlemen and brothers! Now that we have sung together, let us rejoice together; and enjoy a long, long festival!"
As Elsli spoke, Feklitus relaxed his hold of her, as she had hoped he would do; and instantly she darted away like an arrow shot from a bow; and before Feklitus had recovered from his surprise, she had gone beyond pursuit. The boy looked thoughtfully after her retreating figure for a few moments, and then went towards home.
On the next Sunday the great Musical Festival was to take place; and the banner would be ready but just in season. The day before, there was to be a rehearsal of the performance, so that Feklitus might try his speech, and the order of the procession be arranged. A table-cloth tied to a pole was to take the place of the unfinished banner.
It is needless to say that there was but little appetite for dinner at Dr. Stein's table on this Saturday; Oscar rose as soon as he could hope to be excused, and Emma did not remain any longer. She had scarcely taken her eyes from the clock since she sat down, and had answered at cross purposes all dinner-time.
"What are you children about now, that you are in such a tremendous hurry?" asked their father, as they were leaving the room. Emma did not wait to answer.
But Oscar said:--
"You will see to-morrow. To-day we are going to put up the stand for the speaker and to arrange the procession. You'll be surprised, I'm sure. Of course you'll come and hear Feklitus speak?"
"With pleasure. Your mother and aunt will go too, I'm sure. Are you one of the company, Fred?"
"No, indeed. I have more important things to interest me. It is of more use to find and to study the smallest common frog than to attend a thousand musical festivals."
Rikli started as if she thought he was going to produce a specimen of frog from his pocket at that moment. Oscar cast a look of pity upon his brother, and left the room.
That afternoon as Mrs. Stein and her sister sat out in the garden, with their work-basket on the table between them, the former said:--
"It is singular how things repeat themselves. When the children tell us how Feklitus is constantly running after Elsli, though no one can understand why, it reminds me of times long ago when his father, stout Fekli, used to pursue Gritli, and how she used to run on before him, looking back now and then and calling out with a laugh:--
"'Come and catch me if you dare, You big, heavy-footed bear,'"--
A piercing shriek broke in upon the laugh which followed the repetition of this long-forgotten couplet, and they both sprang to their feet; but immediately recognizing the voice, they sat quietly down again, and resumed their work.
"It is only Rikli," said her mother; "she is always in a fright about nothing."
"Fred is probably amusing himself at her expense with some beetle or frog," said the aunt. "I can't help being sorry for the child, and it's too bad of Fred; but it's useless to run to her every time she screams."
Just then the sound of singing arose from the other side of the garden, apparently trying to overpower the noise of the child's cry, and they heard the words:--
"Hanseli is a cry-baby, Rikli is another; She's so exactly like him That he must be her brother."
"That's Fred!" exclaimed Mrs. Stein. "So he is certainly not with Rikli." And as the little girl's shrieks grew louder she began to think something serious was the matter, and the two ladies started away in the direction of the sound. Poor Rikli was indeed in a wretched plight. She was standing in a ditch, covered quite to her neck in the muddy water, and holding up her arms above her head, in an effort to protect it from the many little green frogs that were sporting about her. Aunty reached her first, and, taking the little girl by the arm, she quickly rescued her from her uncomfortable position. As soon as Rikli found herself in safety, she exclaimed reproachfully:--
"Why didn't you come when I called you first?"
They did not stop to answer her, but hurried her into the house, and forthwith into the bath-tub without delay. After the necessary scrubbing and cleansing were over, Rikli put her question again, and the explanation she received was likely to impress upon her the folly of unnecessary alarm, and the certainty that her cries would be unheeded as long as she persisted in uttering them so needlessly.
All this time Oscar was occupied with assembling his chorus in the place chosen for the festival, that the rehearsal might be conducted in due order, except the currant-wine and gingerbread, which naturally were reserved for the festival itself, which was to come off next day. The stage was made of four posts, stuck into the ground, and covered with boards.
The moment for beginning the performance arrived; Feklitus mounted the platform.
"Highly respected gentlemen and brothers! now that we have sung together so well, let us rejoice together; and celebrate the event with a great feast, and all touch glasses together."
With these words, spoken in a loud but rather hurried voice, Feklitus bowed to the company, and came down from the stage.
"Go on, go on with your speech!" shouted every one.
"Why, that's all; and then we must all touch glasses," said Feklitus, who was quite satisfied and elated at having got through so well.
But at his words arose a great uproar; the boys wanted more, and insisted on Feklitus' going on. Oscar alone said not a word; he was transfixed with one thought, that had been suggested by the first words of this brief speech. "Now that we have sung!" To be sure, it had not occurred to him that to have a Musical Festival successful, there ought to be some music. But it was not too late yet to repair the oversight. Controlling his mortification at his blunder, he sprang to the platform, and tried to call the attention of the noisy crowd.
"Here, fellows, listen to me! Be quiet! I want to tell you something important!" and as the noise began to subside, he shouted:--
"We must have some singing! Who of you can sing? We'll find a song, and then learn it. Who can sing?"
But no one came forward; no one could sing! Feklitus declared that there was no need of singing; a speech, a procession, a banner, a collation; why did they want anything else? But Oscar was determined to have a song, and suddenly he thought of Fani. Where was Fani? He could sing, and should sing. But Fani was not to be found, and soon the assembly broke up; the members scattered, and the platform raised its head in solitary grandeur.
Oscar ran home in a state of tremendous excitement. What would become of his much-boasted festival if he could get no music for it? His father's jests, Fred's air of superiority, all the mortifying consequences rankled in his mind. Fani must be found, and if only he would lead, the rest must somehow be got to join in.
As he reached the house, he met Emma just coming home.
"Where is Fani?" he asked. "Have you been putting him up to something that has made him desert us and go off with you instead?"
Emma colored, but did not reply; she went on into the house, as if she did not hear a word that Oscar said. As she came into the sitting-room, Kathri opened the opposite door, saying:--
"Marget is here, asking if any one has seen Fani? she wants him in a hurry, and has been hunting everywhere for him."
Emma's face and neck became flaming red; she seized her aunt's hand, and drew her out of the room. Mrs. Stein went into the kitchen to see what Marget's haste was. She learned that Mr. Bickel had just been to her house to say that he wanted Fani immediately in the factory; he had a place for him at once. He needn't leave school, but could come in the afternoon and on holidays, and he would earn quite a good bit of money directly. Marget had been trying in vain to find Fani, to come and talk to her cousin; she was very much afraid that the great man would be angry at being kept waiting, and Fani would lose the place.
Mrs. Stein told Marget that she would send Oscar to look everywhere for the missing boy, and Marget went home.
Meantime, Emma had drawn her aunt into her own room, and as soon as they were safely inside, with the door shut, she began in imploring tones:--
"Oh, aunty, help me! help me! so that no harm will come of it, and that papa may not be angry with me, and make Fani's mother understand how splendid it is going to be, and that Fani will be a great painter by and by. He has gone to Basel to-day!"
"To Basel! I hope you are not in earnest, Emma!" said her aunt, much disturbed.
"Yes, it is really true, aunty. Do go to Fani's mother and explain to her that it's all right, and don't let her come to papa about it. I'll tell you just how it was, and then you can tell Marget. I saw an advertisement in a newspaper the other day, like this, 'A decorator in Basel wants a lad, about twelve years of age, to do light work and learn the business.' Then the address was given. I showed it to Fani, and we both thought that it would be a good chance for him to learn to paint, and at the same time to earn something, so that he needn't go into the factory. Don't you remember that you said a decorator meant a beautifier, and Fred said it meant a scene-painter? Fani can paint roses and flowers and garlands, and he wanted awfully to go. At first he said he must ask his mother; but then he thought it would be no use, because she said painting was no work at all, but only nonsense. So we planned that he should just go off; and then, if they asked where he was, I should tell them; and as soon as he can, he is to write and tell them that he is going to be a painter."
"This is terrible!" exclaimed her aunt.
"You've done great mischief, Emma. What will become of him, and how will he get to Basel without money?"
Emma said she had given him all her own money, and he could certainly reach Basel, and if only aunty would go and tell his mother about it, all would be right. Aunty lost no time. She went directly to Heiri's cottage, and met Mr. Bickel coming out from the door-way.
"As I have said," was his closing remark, "I will soon put a stop to his loafing; for I will cut off his wages every hour that he idles."
"You can't cut down his wages, Cousin Bickel, before he begins to have any," said Marget to herself as Mr. Bickel marched off with his most important air.
Aunty went into the little house. The outer door opened into the kitchen, and beyond was the living-room. The door between stood open, and through it could be seen two very old cradles, and the wash-tub stood near the door in the kitchen, so that as she stood at her work Marget could watch the three little boys and the baby at the same time. Although Hans was now two years old, he still had a cradle, which served as a bed at night, and as a means of quieting him by day. Whenever he set up his accustomed scream, his mother laid him into the cradle, where, soothed by the rocking motion, he soon fell asleep. The two older brothers, Rudi and Heirli, standing one each side of the cradle, pushed it back and forth with great good-will.
Aunty sat down by the wash-tub, and, after begging Marget to go on with her work, she began gently to unfold her story, winding up with the offer of writing immediately to Basel, to find out how Fani was situated, and on what terms his master had taken him. Then, if everything was not satisfactory, he could be brought home again. In Marget's ears still lingered her Cousin Bickel's threat about cutting down wages. Perhaps Fani wouldn't earn much at the factory after all. If he were in Basel, she should not have his food to provide, and if he could earn enough to clothe himself while learning a trade, it would probably be better than he could do at home, and no trouble to her either. As these calculations passed through Marget's mind, she concluded not to oppose the boy's wishes, and she assured her visitor that his father would be satisfied if the doctor's family thought it a good arrangement, and would some of them look after the boy a little. It was a great relief to Emma's kind aunt that so little blame was likely to attach to the girl for the consequences of her rash advice; and now she concluded her visit with some inquiries about Elsli. Marget's report was favorable. Elsli spent all her time out of school at Oak-ridge, and was very happy in her work. Marget got along very well with the children, and certainly the liberal pay which Elsli brought home every day was a great gain; to say nothing of many clothes which the sick child could not use, and which would clothe Elsli for a long time to come. All this was pleasant tidings, and aunty went home with a much lighter heart. About half-way home she met Oscar coming to meet her. He darted towards her, and at once began to pour out the story of the unlucky musical festival; how he had entirely forgotten that there must be music, and how he dreaded the ridicule he should encounter when the mistake was discovered. He saw but one means of escape; if he could change the name of the festival, so that no music need be expected; then, by altering the motto a little, and changing some words in the speech--didn't aunty think it could be done?
No; she did not think that idea practicable. "You see, Oscar," she said, "a celebration must celebrate something, an anniversary or some interesting event. As there is nothing of the kind in this case, I really think your only course, since you have no music ready, is to give up the festival entirely for the present, and wait till you have something to celebrate."
Poor Oscar! he was terribly disappointed; yet he could not but acknowledge that his aunt was right, and he followed her into the house, dreading his father's questions and the discovery that was sure to follow. Supper was just ready as they entered the house, so that Emma could not satisfy her eager desire to know the result of her aunt's mission; so that she, as well as Oscar, sat at the table in troubled silence, both absorbed in secret fears, and both hoping, if they did not speak, that they should escape being spoken to. Fred noticed their unusual demeanor, and presently he remarked, slyly:
"There is a bird called the ostrich, Struthio which has a habit of hiding its head in the sand, believing that, in so doing, he conceals himself from the hunter. This bird is sometimes seen in this neighborhood, and his usual food is potato-salad."
Oscar took no notice of this bit of sarcasm, but remained intent on his potato-salad; but his father, who was watching him, laughed and said:--
"Is he overpowered by the pleasures of the approaching festival?"
As no farther questions followed, and the supper went on without any inquiries about Fani, both Oscar and Emma rose from the table with easier minds. The danger was not yet over, of blame for Emma and ridicule for Oscar; but they had gained time, and they breathed more freely as they turned again to their aunt for help and advice.