Veronica And Other Friends by Johanna Spyri
Chapter XI. The Motto Proves True.
Veronica for once did not carry out her plans. When she reached home she found Gertrude in a high fever. She spoke to Veronica as if she were still a child, and had just come in from school. Veronica sat quietly down by the bedside, and did what she could to soothe and refresh her, and when by degrees her mother's mind became more clear, she proposed to her to send for the doctor. But Gertrude did not want the doctor. She had no pain, she said; she was only weak. Veronica sat by her side all night, but of course it was no time to speak of the letter, and of the excitements of the day. It would not do to arouse hopes that might never be fulfilled, and if Dietrich came, that was enough. All through the long hours of the night, the girl sat thinking over all the hopes and fears and perplexities of her life, while Gertrude lay still and seemed to doze. Only now and then she spoke some kindly words to the children, and Veronica knew that she thought they were both there sitting by her bed-side; again her little ones.
In the morning Gertrude was quite herself again. She would not hear of the doctor's being called, declaring that she needed nothing but a few days' rest. Veronica would not leave her; but sent word to Sabina, to ask her to take her place for a few days, which she knew she could rely upon her to do gladly, for Sabina was extremely friendly, and very proud of her former pupil, who had been a great credit to her in the position for which she had recommended her.
That day and the next night Mother Gertrude remained quiet, and seemed to sleep most of the time. On the third day, it was evident that she was looking for something, whenever she opened her eyes, although she was not at all delirious; and she frequently exclaimed,
"Oh! if I could only see him once more!"
When the sunset light streamed through the window and illuminated the room, a happy smile lighted up her face. She murmured:
"He half in dreamland seemed to float Saying 'to-morrow will be fine.'"
After a while she turned towards Veronica and said,
"Veronica, sing it again, with him please; it is beautiful, and I like to hear you sing together: 'To-morrow will be fine.'"
"You have been dreaming, mother; we have not been singing," said the poor girl, wiping away her fast-flowing tears.
It was dark now and all was still. The little night-lamp threw a pale light upon the bed, where the mother lay in a half-sleep. Veronica sat by with big wide-open eyes. Her restless thoughts were busy with many questions. Had he received her letter? Would he come? How? When? and how would the mother be? Suddenly Gertrude rose up in bed with greater strength than she had shown for many days. "Go! go! Veronica," she said beseechingly, "Open the door for him! He ought not to stand there knocking like a stranger. Show him how glad we are to see him again!"
"No one is knocking, mother; you are only dreaming," said Veronica sadly shaking her head; but the longing in Gertrude's eyes was more than she could resist, and she rose and left the room, thinking to please her by compliance. She heard a step; but then the road ran in front of the house, and it might be any passer-by. She opened the outside door--Dietrich stood before her!
"You summoned me, or I should not have come;" said the young man, half in excuse, and half reassuringly, for Veronica stood dumb and motionless before him. "Will you not shake hands, Veronica?"
She gave him her hand, saying only,
"Come to your mother; she heard your step, and doesn't need to be prepared for you. But you must control yourself; you will find her very much altered."
Dietrich entered the room. His mother was still sitting up in bed, watching the door, in a strained, expectant attitude. She was indeed changed. She looked so small and thin and wasted. Dietrich was completely unmanned at the sight. He sprang to the bedside, threw his arms about her, and between his sobs he cried again and again,
"Forgive me, mother, forgive me! I will never act so again! I will lead a different life! Everything shall be right! You must live to be happy, mother!"
"Thank God that you have come, Dietrich," said his mother, trembling with weakness and excitement. "I forgave you long ago. How could I have anything against you? But, my dear boy, why did you not write one word, one little word to tell me how you were and where? Didn't you know how unhappy you were making me?"
"What, mother! what do you mean? I wrote three times to you and twice to Veronica; and you sent me back word through Jost that you did not want to hear from me; that the disgrace was too much, and that no one dared to mention my name before Veronica, she was so angry with me. I had to send my letters through Jost, and he gave me the address of his old aunt to make all safe. It was better for you not to know where I was, because they were hunting for me on account of the man I killed. And you have never got one of my letters; not one?"
His mother could only shake her head in reply. She tried to speak, but she had already gone beyond her strength, and she sank back upon her pillows. Veronica, who had been standing by in silence, started forward.
"I will run for the doctor," she said, "stay with her, Dietrich;" and she darted from the room. He hurried after her. "Let me go," he said, "it is too late for you to be out, and you can take better care of her than I can." He was off; and Veronica returned to the bed-side. He took the shortest road; the one that passed the Rehbock. Loud shouts and cries were sounding from the inn. He hurried by. Presently he heard his own name called; some one came running after him, shouting:
"Wait, Dietrich, wait!" He turned round and saw Blasi, who had recognized him as he passed the door, and rushed out after him. "Don't run away, Dietrich! Welcome home! Where did you come from? Have you seen her? Don't run away! Listen to me!" Dietrich stopped and shook hands with Blasi, and again started forward. Blasi detained him.
"There's been something going on that you ought to know about," he continued. "Don't think that I go to the Rehbock every evening, by any means! I heard there was some strange news, and so I went there to-night to hear it, and it was well worth while, I can tell you. The red fellow is found out! The cattle-dealer accused him of having stolen his money bag. The man denied it; there was a long investigation, and at last they found out that and a great many other things against him. He turns out to be a regular rascal. And when all this had been proved against him, he turned round and accused another man, who, he said, was really at the bottom of everything; but no one knows yet who it is. Don't run so fast; I can't keep up with you. Now you're out of it all right, Dietrich; but I suppose you know that they tried to make out that you took the money, and that was why you ran away. But I never believed it; I never did, on my honor. Do stand still; it's all right now, and you needn't run away any more."
"I'm not going to run away, Blasi, and I thank you for bringing me this good news. But it's not all right you know, on account of Marx."
"Marx!" cried Blasi, "what of Marx! it doesn't hurt a man to get a good beating. Marx is as lively as you or I, and still drinks more than enough to quench his thirst, when he can get it."
Dietrich stood still now, and drew a long breath. "Is that true, Blasi, really true? You wouldn't say it if it were not true? She wrote me that there was nothing to fear; but I didn't understand it. And I can't quite understand now, Jost wrote me that Marx was dead, and that I had better go away as far as I possibly could, because they were searching for me, high and low. I can't make it out. But I must go now for the doctor. Come and see me to-morrow, Blasi; and we will have a good talk. Now good-night."
Dietrich shook his old comrade by the hand and ran off. But Blasi could not so easily smother all the wonderful things he had to tell, and he called out at the top of his lungs,
"You don't know much of anything yet! I spend the whole day at your house; it's you that will have to come to me. I am working at your trade; you ought to see! there's many a fellow that would be glad to do as well as I do!"
But Dietrich had disappeared. It was past midnight, before he reached the doctor's house, and he knocked a good many times in vain. At last a maid came down and opened the door, saying as she did so,
"What a plague it is, that everything always comes at once! He has been called out once to-night, and has hardly got to bed again. It never rains but it pours!"
"I hope he will be so good as to come now;" said Dietrich, "it is very important or I would not ask him."
The maid knocked at the chamber door. It was some time before the doctor's voice answered from within, "Who's there?"
"Dietrich from Tannenegg," said the servant.
"He back again? No, I'm too old and too tired for that. They ought to give him a good beating if they can catch him; it would serve him right."
Dietrich stepped up to the door himself.
"It is not for me, doctor," said he humbly, "it is for my mother; she is very ill indeed. For God's sake, doctor, come and help her!"
"That's another thing altogether; she is a brave woman, who has been doing your work for you," said the voice from within the room. Pretty soon the doctor came out, and when Dietrich described his mother's condition, he took some medicines with him and started out.
"I have no horse to use to-night; mine has done a hard day's work and must have his rest. We shall have to go up the hill afoot."
As they crossed the open space in front of the house, he continued,
"I remember once how on this very spot once a little boy stood up in front of me, and when I asked him if he would like some day to take care of a horse, answered, 'No, I want a horse of my own.' I thought he had a good purpose in view if he would only pursue it the right way. But it does not do to want to begin by being a gentleman. First come work, and service for us all, then mastership may follow. Whoever tries to begin at the end, will end at the beginning; which is not a good nor an agreeable method. Am I right or wrong, Dietrich?"
"You are right, doctor. If one could only look ahead!" answered Dietrich.
"Yes, that would help; but as we cannot, we must trust those who are our friends, and who have gone before us in the right way, and can show us the road; like that noble woman to whom we are now going."
When they entered Gertrude's room they found her asleep. The doctor sat down by the bedside, watched her awhile, and felt her pulse from time to time. Then he arose and turning to Veronica, he said,
"I can do no good here; take care of her; she deserves all you can do, but the lamp of life burns low, and will soon go out altogether. She has had a hard lot; trouble wears faster than years."
With these words the doctor went to the door. He did not even glance towards Dietrich, who threw himself on his knees by the bedside of his dying mother, sobbing out:
"O God in Heaven, do not let her die! Let her come back! Let her have a little comfort in this world! Punish me as I deserve, but oh! let my mother live!"
Gertrude opened her eyes. She grasped the hand of her sobbing son, which lay upon hers, and held it tightly clasped; while she whispered softly:
"Yes, my Dieterli, pray, pray; if you can pray, all will come right again."
She closed her eyes and never spoke again. The hand that held Dietrich's grew cold. Veronica, who had been standing behind Dietrich weeping silently approached the bedside, took Gertrude's other hand in hers, and said between her sobs:
"Sleep well, dear, good mother! Yes, for you 'tomorrow will be fine';" and she left the room.
Two days later Dietrich followed his mother to her last resting place. There was no need to avoid meeting people now, for every one knew that the true thief had been discovered. But no hope was left to him in his home. When he returned from the funeral, and went into the house, he knew that he had no right there, for it no longer belonged to him. He went to his room, strapped on his heavy knap-sack, and came down stairs. Veronica was alone in the sitting-room. She stood leaning against the window, her eyes fixed on the church-yard beyond, where the mother lay sleeping.
He entered the room. "Veronica, give me your hand once more. I am going," he said, coming towards her.
"Where are you going, Dietrich?" she asked in a voice that was wholly without feeling; and the cold tone seemed to stab the young man's heart as with a knife. "It is all one to her;" he thought.
"I am going out into the world. I am going to work to pay my debts. I have no home; and as there is no one on earth who cares for me, I can bear my burden better anywhere than here."
"Then go, in God's name," said Veronica, and she held out her hand to him. This was too much for Dietrich. He made one struggle for self-control and then broke down completely.
"Can you let me go so coolly, Veronica? not one kindly word for me? If I might stay here with you, I would work day and night like the meanest servant; I would do anything and everything for you. But no! I must go! I could not bear it! How could I stay and see you give yourself to some one else--I who have lost you,--lost you forever!"
The young man threw himself into a chair, buried his face in his hands, and cried like a child.
Veronica was as white as snow. She went to his side, and laid her hand upon his shoulder.
"Dietrich," she said softly, "if you feel in this way, why don't you ask me how I feel, when I think of living on here alone when you have gone; when you have left me perhaps forever?"
Dietrich raised his eyes to hers. A look lay there, a look such as he had dreamed of in his banishment. He sprang to his feet, and seized her hand.
"Veronica, can you love me? can you trust me?"
She did not withdraw her hand, and looked him full in the eyes.
"I have always loved you, Dietrich," she said, "and if I know that you can pray again to God, and promise to live a life acceptable to Him, I can trust you too."
The young man pressed her to his heart. "Is it true, is it possible?" he cried. "Oh Veronica, can it be true?"
But suddenly he started back, and said in a frightened tone,
"No, I dare not. I cannot. Who am I? I am nothing; I have nothing, less than nothing; and I know what you are and how far above me. Jost wrote me that there was no hope for me. I wanted to make you so happy--I meant to get money and provide all sorts of beautiful things for you and to make you the happiest woman in the world. And now! now I am a beggar, and a miserable creature into the bargain."
Veronica shook her head.
"You do not understand what happiness really is, Dietrich. I have been searching for it longer than you have, and you may believe me that it is not what you think. It is not something at a distance, far beyond our reach; we may find it while we are at work. We are not beggars; this house is ours, and we can still live in it. But, Dietrich, we will try to find the way that our mother went; that is the true way to happiness and peace in life and death."
"We will," cried Dietrich, with solemn joy; and as he clasped Veronica again to his heart, there was that in his face and in his voice which assured her that he would never leave her again, and that they would walk in that true way of happiness and peace together.
At this moment Judith burst into the room. When she saw the faces of the two who stood before her, she stood stock still with surprise! She immediately took in the situation.
"So! So! this is something that delights one's very heart!" she cried, and her face beamed with satisfaction. "But look out of the window! I came to tell you! You can say good-bye to that rascal forever."
They stepped together to the window which looked out upon the road. Jost was just going by. His hands were bound together, and he was followed by the Constable, who hurried him along. Jost looked up at the window and shrank back at what he saw; but the man drove him on.
"What does it mean?" asked Dietrich and Veronica in the same breath, turning to Judith.
"It is what was bound to come," she explained. "Everything is found out. They seized the red fellow first, after I succeeded in getting it through the cattle-dealer's thick head that he was the man to get hold of. When they had driven the red man into a corner, so that he couldn't lie himself out of it, he turned against Jost, and declared that Jost had planned the whole thing and that he himself had only played second-fiddle. Which can lie the worst, no one can tell, but that they are both reaping what they have sown, is certain enough. And now we're to have a wedding, are we? and our Dietrich is going to settle down into regular home life again. Welcome, neighbors; we will live in friendship together all our days." And Judith shook hands cordially with them both, and hastened away to spread through the neighborhood the good news of the coming marriage.
It is now ten years since Dietrich and Veronica left the church of Tannenegg where they had been made one, and the blessing had been pronounced upon their united lives. They went first to the little church yard and knelt by the new made grave covered with flowers. With tearful eyes, and with sad regrets in their happy hearts, they said,
"If she could only have lived to see us now!"
Today there is no more beautiful flower-garden in all Tannenegg, than that about Dietrich's pretty white house. Within the house all is so fresh and charming from top to bottom, that one who enters it finds it difficult to get away again from its hospitable shelter.
Dietrich has built a fine large work-room; and there he sits and works, industrious and happy, or he goes about his outside affairs in a steady business-like manner. Often he has to go to Fohrensee and even farther; for his trade is prosperous beyond competition and his work is recognized far and wide as of unrivalled excellence.
On Veronica's face lies such a sunshine of constant happiness as is good to look upon. She has given up her position in the school at Fohrensee; her place is with her husband and children; but she does not for all that sit with her hands in her lap; her orderly well-kept house, and her blooming well-behaved children bear witness to her faultless management as well as to her care and industry, and at the great annual Fair in the city, if any one inquires about some wonderfully fine and beautiful embroidery on exhibition, the answer invariably is, "that is the work of Veronica of Tannenegg."
Blasi is Dietrich's permanent assistant. He is constantly about the house, and is known in the family as Uncle Blasi. As soon as the day's work is over, and the evening sets in, his first question is, "Where are our children?" He never speaks of them in any other way; they are his, his joy and pride. He has also a special claim upon them, for he and Cousin Judith are the god-father and god-mother of both.
Blasi's favorite time is Sunday, when Dietrich goes to walk with his wife, and gives over the house and the children to him. Then he sets upon one knee the chubby little Dieterli and on the other the black eyed Veronica, and they ride there as long as they please, no matter how high the horse has to curvet and prance. And whatever else they want him to do for them, he is ready to do, whatever it may be.
There is only one Sunday pleasure that outweighs the knee-riding with Uncle Blasi, and that is when Veronica takes her little girl in her lap and lets Dieterli press close to her side, as he does only when he is very much excited. Then the mother takes a little picture in her hand, the picture of a red rose. Suddenly the flower opens, and a little verse in golden letters appears. Every time this opens, it elicits a cry of joy from the children, and they are never tired of seeing the wonder repeated. And Veronica is never tired of repeating it; for the rose and the verse are so interwoven with her life that they recall many memories of joy and sorrow; and she often says to the children, "Some time when you are old enough, I will explain this golden motto to you, and you shall learn it by heart."
When Blasi and Judith are alone together, he likes to talk over old times, and he often reminds her that he had fully made up his mind to marry Veronica himself; and he always winds up with,
"I want you to understand that I would never have given her up to any one else; but an old friend like Dietrich, you know;--of course it's a very different thing with Dietrich."
And Judith, laughing, answers,
"Yes, yes, Blasi, you're quite right; it's a very different thing with Dietrich."