Volume One
Chapter IX. A Last Journey and a First.
 

A large travelling-carriage passed by the door of the doctor's house, in which sat alone, a lady clothed in black. It was Clarissa, who had come to carry little Nora to her home by the Rhine. The doctor's four children were standing in the garden, and they watched it as it passed, thinking what a sad journey its occupant must have had. Their aunt stood at an upper window watching it also, and as it disappeared round the corner she beckoned Fred to come up to her in his room. He came running up the stairs.

"See, Fred! I am clearing your room up a little. There are a great many useless things here; why should you keep them? See; in this box is a dead creature; let's begin with this, and throw it away"; and as she spoke she carried the box towards a window.

"What are you doing, aunty?" cried the boy. "That is my very best chrysalis; it will turn into a beautiful moth by and by; one of the finest of our butterflies, with wonderful marks on its wings."

"What nonsense!" said his aunt. "This little creature is utterly dead; don't you see it is stiff and motionless."

"Don't you know about caterpillars, aunty dear?" exclaimed the boy, holding fast to his box. "I'll tell you about it. This is a chrysalis; and it seems entirely dead, but it's only the outside that is dead. Inside, where we cannot see it, lies something that is alive; and by and by, when the time comes, this shell will be cast off, for there will be no farther use for it, and out will fly a new lovely creature with exquisite wings."

"But, Fred, I don't understand how that can be possible! How can a poor worm, that only crawls about all its life, die, and then suddenly turn into a beautiful new creature with wings, and fly away leaving its old body behind? Do you understand it, Fred?"

"No, I don't understand it, but I know it's so."

"Well, my dear boy," said his aunt, seriously, "what if there was something hidden within little Nora, which was alive too, and which, leaving the poor dead shell behind, has flown on shining wings away to distant heights, where it is entering on a new and happy life!"

Fred stood thoughtful a few moments, and then said, "I never thought of it in that way, aunty. Now I shall have a very different idea about Nora. How glad she must be to fly away on her new wings from the sick body in which she was imprisoned! Are not you glad, aunty, that you know about the chrysalis, and isn't it wonderful?"

"It certainly is; and it teaches us that there are many things about us that we cannot understand, and yet which are true, though no one can explain them. So by and by, Fred, when you are a learned man, as I hope you will be, when you come to something you cannot understand in nature, you must say modestly, 'This is beyond my powers of explanation; this is the work of God'; and so stand reverently before his greatness, that is about and above us all."

Fred handled his chrysalis with respect as he laid it away with his other treasures. A new thought had come to him about that and about other things.

Clarissa had arrived; but her coming did not bring comfort to the sorrowing mother; on the contrary, it seemed only to renew her grief. Clarissa would have been glad to hear all about her darling's last days, and how the end came, but the mother could not bear any allusion to the subject, and Clarissa kept silence. She consoled herself by looking at Nora's peaceful face, that seemed to have a message of comfort for her. When she heard that Elsli had been alone with Nora when she died, she was very anxious to see the girl, and sent for her to come and speak with her. When Elsli came into the pleasant room where she had passed so many happy days, and glanced towards the empty window-seat, she was overcome with fresh grief. Clarissa took her by the hand, and, drawing her to a seat by her side, immediately began to ask about Nora; and soon Elsli was pouring out her whole heart; and she told Clarissa all that she and Nora had said to each other about the heavenly land, and she repeated the hymn that Nora had taught her. Then she told how quietly Nora had left her at last, and said that she hoped to follow her soon into her beautiful home.

Clarissa hung upon every word that fell from Elsi's lips with gratitude and satisfaction. It was she who had taught Nora that hymn as she sat upon her knees when she was a very little child, and as she heard it repeated now it was with the same tones, the same motions of hand and head that the child had used who learned it from her own lips; it seemed to Clarissa as if Nora lived again in Elsli. Weeping with mingled joy and sorrow, she went in search of Mrs. Stanhope.

"Surely," she exclaimed, "this child is the image of our darling; it is her sister, with her voice, her words, her very thought. This, too, is our child."

Mrs. Stanhope roused herself for a moment to listen to Clarissa's words, but she was not moved by them; she threw herself again on her bed and would not be comforted. Clarissa was not disheartened by this indifference; she was so completely impressed herself by the wonderful resemblance between the children that she led Elsli into the room where the hopeless mother lay in full indulgence of her grief, and said:--

"I bring you this little girl, Mrs. Stanhope; for I look upon her as a legacy that our Nora has left us."

Mrs. Stanhope looked for a moment into the girl's face; then she suddenly kissed her and said:--

"Elsli, Nora loved you, and you loved her. You shall stay with me always"; and they all three wept together, but there was healing in the tears.

Like one in a dream Elsli went home that day. She understood, but not wholly, what had happened. She had believed that Nora would ask her heavenly Father to call her to heaven, and would come herself to meet her; and now it seemed as if she had already come to meet her to lead her elsewhere than to heaven.

Clarissa went to make the arrangements with Marget, about which there was no difficulty whatever. For as soon as Marget understood that not only was Elsli to be provided with a home for life, but that the help which she might have afforded her parents as she grew older was to be made good to them, she was overjoyed. She said that Elsli was not fit for hard work, and that the care of the little boys was quite beyond her, especially since Hans was growing more and more troublesome. So she gladly agreed to let her go, with the understanding that she should return home at least once a year for a visit.

In an incredibly short time the whole village was in possession of the news that the wealthy Mrs. Stanhope had offered to take Elsli home with her, and to keep her as her own child always; and that they were to start for the villa on the Rhine the very next day. The excitement produced by this news was intense. Wherever two neighbors met on the road, they stopped to talk over the good-luck that had happened to Elsli. In the school, the children could not keep quiet, so great was their interest in the event. Even Mr. Bickel was moved to make an unheard-of effort He took his big stick in his hand, saying:--

"Wife, we ought to go and call on Mrs. Stanhope, and apprise her of our relationship with that girl Elsli. If she needs any advice about the child, I am the proper person to give it. Perhaps we shall be asked to make our cousin a visit, when she is settled there by the Rhine; there are great factories of all kinds there, and perhaps Mrs. Stanhope may have some connection with them, and that may help us in our business."

But Mr. Bickel had to lay aside his stick again, for his wife was not ready to go to make so important a visit at so short notice.

If there was excitement elsewhere, at the doctor's house there was a real jubilee. The mother and the aunt were filled with thankfulness that the delicate girl had fallen into such good hands, where she would be loved and cared for, and where her natural refinement would have every chance of development. All the family were full of pleasure and anticipations of great things in the future.

Oscar went about all day, lost in thought. He was trying to turn this new state of things to account; for it was a great trial to him that the beautiful embroidered banner had had to be laid aside; and he was determined, if possible, to find some use to put it to. Emma, too, was evidently preoccupied, and Fred said to himself, as he saw her knitted brows, "She's got some scheme working in her brain." As for Fred himself, he sat deeply engaged in making long lists of all the caterpillars, beetles, snails, and other similar creatures that he knew were to be found in the neighborhood of the Rhine. To make assurance doubly sure, he put the Latin name under the common name of each.

That evening Elsli was sitting on the long bench at home, quite hidden by the three little brothers, who had taken complete possession of her. She bore the infliction patiently, for she knew it was the last time, at least for many months. She had begun to realize her good fortune, and to rejoice in the prospect before her. Clarissa had completely won her heart; and the child could talk to her freely and without reserve, as she had never spoken to any one before, except Nora. She did not feel so much at ease with Mrs. Stanhope, but she loved her as Nora's mother, and Mrs. Stanhope was kind to her, but not like Clarissa. Elsli puzzled her mind a good deal about the sort of life she was to lead in her new home; and as to whether she should be able to do all that was required of her, and to do it properly. But more than all, she was worried about Fani, from whom she was now so completely separated, and whom she might not see again for long years. As she sat pondering on these problems, she was totally unconscious that Hanseli was pulling and kicking her in the old style, when Emma suddenly came into the room.

"Elsli," she cried, breathlessly, before she had fairly passed the threshold, "you are going away to-morrow, and I have something very important to say to you. Put the boys down, and come with me; do."

"Hanseli will scream if I do," said Elsli, and he did scream; but Emma took him without ceremony from his sister's arms, setting him on the ground with no gentle hand; and before the frightened child had recovered from his surprise, she had dragged Elsli away round the corner of the house to a secluded place behind the big apple-tree.

"Here, I want you to take this with you," she began, holding out a thick roll of paper, "and I want to tell you that you are going to pass through Basel on your way."

"Are you sure?" asked Elsli, with sparkling eyes.

"Yes, yes, I am sure; and now listen. Tell Mrs. Clarissa that Fani is in Basel, and that you want to see him. I know she will take you, she is so kind. Then you give him this roll, and tell him that I sent it, and that I hope he is well. Here is his address."

"Oh, how glad I am!" cried Elsli. "Do you really think I ought to ask Mrs. Clarissa to take me to Fani?"

"Of course you ought; only think how pleased he will be to see you. Promise, Elsli,--" but before Elsli could answer, Oscar came round the corner; and, spying Elsli, he seized her by the hand, exclaiming:--

"I've been hunting for you everywhere; and I've found you at last! Come with me; I want to tell you something!"

He drew her away to the other side of the house, and stopped by the hazelnut hedge; Emma did not follow them, for fear of vexing her brother. She had sent to Fani, by Elsli, all the white paper and all the pencils that she could collect in the children's room at home, and she thought it but prudent to keep out of Oscar's way.

"Now, attend to what I am going to say, Elsli," began Oscar, seriously; "it is something very important for you to know. You are going to foreign parts, where you will have no friends; I mean no acquaintances among people in general. But no doubt there will be some Swiss there, and you can form a society of our countrymen, that can meet every week, and talk over all the news from their own country."

"Yes, but I shouldn't know what to say," said Elsli, very much perplexed.

"Never mind, the others can do the talking," said the boy, eagerly; "but now comes the really important part of it. Next summer, when you are coming home again, you must agree upon some convenient place where all the members of the society shall meet Then crowds of people will collect from all sides, and I will be there with my beautiful banner, and we will have a procession and a great celebration of the first anniversary. Be sure to write me the date of the foundation, Elsli!"

"Yes, I will certainly," assented Elsli, but her tone was less decided than her words, for she was anything but clear as to how the society could be formed, or why it should be formed at all. Further questions were, however, impossible, for at this moment Fred appeared with Rikli in his wake, and a long strip of paper in his hand. Oscar vanished.

"Now, Elsli, read this," said Fred.

"Here are the names of all the beautiful caterpillars, and rare beetles and snails, that you are likely to find where you are going. I want you to hunt in all the hedges, and stir up the earth now and then in your walks. Then the fellows will turn up, and you can collect them, and send me the finest specimens. You will, won't you? I'll send you something pretty in return. You can put them right into your pocket, you know, until you get home from your walk, and hold the pocket together so,--; so that they won't crawl out"; and Fred pinched up his pocket-hole so that no kind of a crawling thing could have escaped from it. Rikli shuddered all over.

Elsli was very willing to do Fred this service, but she did not really see how, any more than in Oscar's case; but she said, modestly:--

"I will do my best, Fred; but how am I to know the creatures whose names are on your list?"

This was a sensible question, and Fred could not help seeing the importance of it; but he was not to be deterred by a slight obstacle. He looked again at his lists.

"Suppose I should draw a figure of each creature against its name!" he said to himself. "I will come to see you to-morrow morning, before you go away," he said to Elsli, and was off.

Little Rikli, whose lesson had been learned at such a severe cost, was quite cured of her foolish screaming whenever Fred came near her with his dear little insects; but she watched his every motion, lest his fist or his pockets should disgorge some green-eyed frog or other equally unpleasant treasure. Her big brother had, however, a great fascination for the child, who followed him everywhere like his shadow. She now came nearer to Elsli, and said, entreatingly:--

"Don't send the nasty things alive, will you, Elsli, dear? You'll stuff them first, won't you?"

Just then, who should make his appearance but Feklitus, in his very best Sunday suit, and at the same moment Marget's voice was heard from the cottage, calling in a tone loud enough to sound above Hans' screams:--

"Elsli, where are you? It's strange that you can't stay in the house two minutes at a time to-day."

Rikli ran away; but Feklitus seized Elsli by the arm and held her fast.

"I want to go to see the lady at Oak-ridge," he said, roughly. "I am your cousin, and I want to tell her so, and that some time or other we mean to come and visit you down there by the Rhine; but I'm not going alone, and you've just got to come with me."

"Let me alone; don't you hear that I am wanted in the house!" And Elsli tried to free herself from his hold.

"You shall come," said the boy; and he grasped Elsli still more firmly, and dragged her away with him.

Oscar, Emma, Fred, and Rikli all met with the same reception from Kathri on their return home; she stood on the front porch, and said to one after another as they came up, in a warning whisper:--

"Hush, hush! don't make a noise! Mrs. Stickhop is in the parlor, come to say good-bye."

Poor Elsli did not sleep much that last night at home. She was excited by all the last words and commissions and leave-takings of her friends, and oppressed by the thought of what was before her on the morrow, and it was in a half-dreamy state that early on the following morning she began her journey, with Mrs. Stanhope and Clarissa, in the large carriage, along the high road, through the country that lay still in the dawning light. Suddenly a folded paper, weighted with a small stone, flew through the air into the carriage window.

"Good-bye, Elsli. I wish I could go with you," cried a voice from the road-side. It was Fred, who had not been able to finish his work before, and who had only painted his last snail just in season to throw his now illustrated list after Elsli.

This last greeting brought the tears to Elsli's eyes. She seemed now fully to realize that she was leaving home, leaving all who had ever known and loved her. Clarissa saw it all, and, taking Elsli's hand in hers, she expressed, by the warm grasp that she gave her, a mother's sympathy and love.

For the next week the doctor's family were busy talking over and over all the events of the past few weeks, from the arrival of little Nora to Elsli's final departure. On the tenth day came a long letter from Elsli, which gave food for farther conversation. The mother and the aunt and the four brothers and sisters were all equally impatient to know the contents. The letter was addressed to Emma, who knew it from its envelope, opened it out, and exclaimed with delight:--

"It is eight pages long! I will read it aloud to you"

ROSEMOUNT ON THE RHINE, Sept. 28, 18--.

DEAR FRIEND,--Thank you a thousand times for your good advice, for without it I should never have dared to say a word about Fani.

But I will begin at the beginning and tell you everything as it has happened. When Fred said good-bye and I drove away from you all, I had to cry a little! But Aunt Clarissa--this is what I am to call her always--was very kind, and talked to me, and bade me tell her everything that troubled me. Mrs. Stanhope shut her eyes and lay back in the carriage, so still that I thought she was asleep, so I thought it was a good time to tell Aunt Clarissa all about Fani, as you advised. She didn't even know that there was such a person, so I had to tell her everything that had happened, and how long it was since I had seen him. She said of course I must see him in Basel, and that we should have plenty of time, as we were not going farther than that, that day. She said she would go with me to find him, and that Mrs. Stanhope would be perfectly willing. When we reached Basel we went to a big hotel. I never saw anything like it before. I could scarcely eat my dinner for joy that I was going to see Fani again. Directly after dinner Aunt Clarissa told Mrs. Stanhope that we wanted to go to see my brother, and Mrs. Stanhope said she would go with us, as she did not want to stay alone.

We went across a long bridge, over a river, and quite a distance further. At last we came to some small houses, and we began to inquire for the painter Schulz. There we were right before his house. Mrs. Stanhope opened the door and went right into the work-shop, and we followed her. Fani sprang up with a great cry of joy, and threw his arms round Mrs. Stanhope, and his eyes were full of tears, for he was terribly homesick, and had never seen any one from home since he went away. Then he caught sight of me, and he was gladder still; and he wasn't the least shy with Mrs. Stanhope--you know he never is--but he put his arms round her again, and exclaimed:--

"Oh, you don't know how glad I am to see some one from home!"

You can't imagine how kind she was to him. At last she told Fani to call his master, and when the man came she went out into another room to talk with him. After a while she came back, and then, what do you think? She asked Fani if he would not like to go and live with me at her house! I can't begin to tell you how I felt. At first I could scarcely breathe for joy, and then I began to think I must have made a mistake; it couldn't be true. But Fani cried out with delight, and he seized Mrs. Stanhope's hand and looked at her so beseechingly, and he promised to work as hard as he could, and do everything to please her if he might only go. "You shall," she said; and then she told him when to meet us at the railroad next day. What a promise for Fani and me!

As we were going back to the hotel, Mrs. Stanhope said to Aunt Clarissa, "Did you notice the resemblance? Doesn't he look at you out of his big brown eyes just as my Philo did?" Aunt Clarissa saw the likeness too, and said that was the reason that she took a fancy to Fani the moment she saw him. You see, Philo was Nora's little brother. In the evening, Mrs. Stanhope spoke several times about the likeness, and it was the first time that she had talked with us at all. All that night I kept thinking it was too good to be true; it must be a dream; but the next morning, when we got to the railroad station, there was Fani, and he had been waiting three hours, ever since six o'clock. Mrs. Stanhope laughed a little at his impatience--it was the first time she had laughed at all.

All day long we travelled in the railway carriage, and Fani was as happy as he could be. When we stopped at a station, and Aunt Clarissa was going to get out and fetch us something to eat, Mrs. Stanhope stopped her and said: "No, no; we have an escort now, he must wait upon us." Then she explained to Fani what he was to do, and you ought to have seen how he ran about and did it all so handily, and he kept looking at Mrs. Stanhope to see if she was pleased; and she was pleased, that was plain enough. In the evening we stopped at Mainz on the Rhine, and Mrs. Stanhope said we should see the river in the morning. And the next day, what do you think? we went on a splendid steamboat; no one can possibly understand it without seeing it. Fani was like a crazy creature all day, he was so wild with delight; and Mrs. Stanhope let him run about all over the boat and look at everything. Sometimes I didn't see him for an hour at a time! By and by he came and took your present, and said he was going to draw everything that he had seen, and just how the whole boat was arranged, so that he should never forget it. And he wants me to thank you a great deal for the beautiful present. I forgot to say that before.

In the evening, when we left the boat, we found a carriage and a wagon waiting for us. We drove for half an hour or more, and then we came to Mrs. Stanhope's house. It is a large house, standing in the middle of a garden, and with large trees about it. When we got out of the carriage, Fani whispered to me, "Do you suppose I shall work in the stables or in the garden?" Of course I couldn't tell him; I did not even know what I was to do myself. But nothing has turned out as we thought it would. At first Mrs. Stanhope was so sad that we did not see her at all for three days. Aunt Clarissa was just as kind as she could be. She took us all about the garden and showed us the place where Philo was buried; a white cross stands there with his name on it. And Nora was buried by his side, under a big linden.

On the fourth day Mrs. Stanhope came to table with us, and after dinner she talked very kindly with us, and said that now it was time for us to begin to work. Oh, how surprised Fani and I were when we found out what we were to do! What kind of hard work do you guess it is? No work at all! You won't believe it, but it is true. We just sit all the morning in the school-room and study! The teacher comes at nine o'clock and stays till one, and Fani and I are the only scholars! Of course Fani is much cleverer than I am; but the teacher is very kind, and when I cannot do my lessons he only says: "Come, be brave, and you'll soon do as well as your brother!" I get along very well, and I am not so ashamed as I was when all the children in school were ahead of me. It is one o'clock before we know it, and we are glad when school-time comes the next day. After dinner we all go into the garden; and Mrs. Stanhope takes Fani with her, and he talks with her about his lessons and his ideas about all sorts of things; and it is easy to see that she likes him very much, better of course than she does me; you know how frank he is. He tells her just how he feels and how glad he is to be here with her, and he thanks her over and over again for all her kindness, and he holds her hand tight; and, when he looks up at her so beaming with happiness, she strokes his hair, and seems more fond of him than I have ever seen her of any one except Nora. But I can never do as Fani does; though I have just the same feelings, I cannot speak them out; and I'm afraid she does not think that I am so grateful, and I can quite understand that she cannot care as much for me as for Fani. But Aunt Clarissa is very good to me, and, when we come in out of the garden, I go into a room with her and she teaches me to sew and to embroider as you do. Tell Oscar that, even if I don't succeed in finding people to form a society, I will at any rate work him a beautiful banner,--Aunt Clarissa says that I may,--so he must be sure to write me what he wants for a motto. While I am working, Fani has a lesson in drawing; a teacher comes for two hours. Mrs. Stanhope almost always sits with him during this lesson, for she is delighted that Fani learns so quickly, and draws such beautiful things already.

After that Fani and I go into the garden by ourselves and play about as much as we like. We run into every corner of it, for all about are stone seats to rest on, and white marble statues, and the garden is large and beautiful and stretches way down to the river; and there stand the great lindens, and it is all the most splendid and beautiful place in the world. Please tell Fred that I am looking all the time after beetles and such things, but I haven't been able to catch any; he mustn't be vexed with me, perhaps I shall succeed better by and by.

After supper Aunt Clarissa sits down at the piano, and we sing Nora's favorite song and several others that she has taught me. Generally Fani sits in the other room and draws by himself; but when he sings with us it sounds much better, and it's only when he sings, too, that Mrs. Stanhope comes in to listen. After this, we get our lessons ready for the next day. But time passes much too quickly here; and Fani and I are always sorry when the day is over and we have to go to bed. I am almost never tired now; and, oh, it is so lovely to live here and to be with Fani. When we go in to our meals, Aunt Clarissa always says, "Thank God that we have children again with us at table!" And yesterday Mrs. Stanhope answered: "I think you would like to have the house full of children." And Aunt Clarissa replied, "I should never have too many of them." Then Mrs. Stanhope said: "Next year we must invite our friends from Switzerland to visit us; all four of the doctor's children; and you can take little Rikli under your special charge." At these words Fani shouted for joy; but I couldn't utter a sound; I could scarcely swallow, I was so delighted. Aunt Clarissa clapped her hands and said, "Elsli must write directly and invite them, so that we may make sure of them"; and, afterwards, she said to me again, "What a splendid plan that is of Mrs. Stanhope's!" In the evening Fani and I went all round the garden to pick out all the places that we particularly want to show you. Fred will be able to catch his own insects. Fani is going to write you a long letter, and then one to Oscar; but first he wants to draw a picture of the linden trees and the little spot under them, to send you for a present. We send our love to you all a thousand times, and beg you to give it to our father and mother and the little boys.

Fani sends his special love to you.

Your true friend,

ELSLI.

When the letter was finished, there came a burst of shouting and hand-clapping that seemed as if it would never stop. Such good news for the children! What a prospect of delights! The mother and aunt sympathized in their pleasure; but they took the greatest satisfaction in the thought that their anxiety for Fani was forever relieved, and that God had led the two children whose welfare lay so near their hearts, by such unlooked-for ways, into a happy and hopeful life.

Which of the four children was most pleased with the prospect of the visit to the villa on the Rhine, it would be impossible to say. They could talk of nothing else, and think of nothing else. Oscar saw in imagination whole armies of Swiss collected there, and united in one fraternal society by his efforts, with Fani's help. He began at once to employ every spare moment in searching for a motto for the promised banner. Emma was in a condition of almost feverish joy. Fani was really on the road to become a painter, and her long-cherished wish was being accomplished. Now that Mrs. Stanhope was evidently so fond of him, surely everything would be done for his improvement. But she could hardly wait for the time to come for their visit, for every day she had some new idea for his future that she longed to tell him. Fred had his hands full of preparations. He looked forward to making such an increase of his collections that he was afraid he should not have room to contain them all. He induced his aunt to promise him all the useless boxes in the house, and all winter long he stored them away in his room in readiness for the expected occupants.

Little Rikli enjoyed the anticipation of the summer with pure delight. She was never so happy as when with Fred, yet her pleasure in being with him had been always mixed with fright; but she was sure that under the protection of good Aunt Clarissa there would be no danger that frogs or beetles should be allowed to annoy her, or that any unpleasant creatures would crawl out upon her under the shady lindens by the river.

Fani and Elsli grew better and happier every day; they had but one unsatisfied wish--that the summer would come; so that they might welcome their dear old friends to their new home, and show them its beauties and share its blessings with them.

Aunt Clarissa took great pains that the two children committed to her care should not forget the good Father in heaven who had provided such a home for them. She led them often to the spot where Philo and Nora lay buried, and reminded them how quickly and unexpectedly sorrow may be changed into joy, as they had themselves experienced; then she told them that just so quickly joy may be changed to sorrow, and that into the brightest sunshine the shadow of death may fall; so that only those can live happy and secure who have full trust in God, who holds all life in his hand, and who makes both joy and sorrow work together for good to those who love him.