Gritli's Children by Johanna Spyri
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"
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.