Chapter II. With Fresh Courage.
 

A few days later a numerous company of mourners followed another black bier to the sunny church-yard.

Steffan, the saddler, had been universally respected. He had begun life modestly; there had been no large industries in Tannenegg in his early days. He married the quiet and orderly Gertrude, who worked with him at his trade, and helped support the frugal household. Soon the flood of prosperity invaded Fohrensee, and naturally the only saddler in the vicinity had his hands full of work.

Now Gertrude's help was needed in earnest, and she did not fail. They were soon in possession of a nice little house of their own, with a garden about it, and no matter how much work she might have to do in the shop, everything in her own province of housekeeping was as well and carefully ordered as if Gertrude had no other business to occupy her time and thoughts. And Steffan, Gertrude and their little Dieterli lived simple, useful and contented lives and were a good example to all the neighborhood.

Now, to-day, Gertrude stood weeping by the window and looked across to the church-yard, where that very morning they had laid her good man. Now she must make her way alone; she had no one to help her, no one belonging to her except her two children, and for them she must work, for she never admitted for a moment that the orphaned Veronica was not hers to care for as well as her own little Dietrich.

She did not lose courage. As soon as the first benumbing effect of her sorrow had passed a little, she gazed up at the shining heavens and said to herself, "He who has sent this trouble will send me strength to bear it;" and in full trust in this strength she went to work, and seemed able to do more than ever.

Her property, outside of the little capital which her husband had laid by, consisted of her house, which was free from debt, and of which she could let a good part. The question was, whether she could carry on the remunerative business that her husband had been engaged in, until little Dietrich should be old enough to assume the direction of it, and pursue it as his father had done before him. Gertrude retained the services of a workman who had been employed by Steffan, and she herself did not relax her labors early and late, to oversee the work and keep all in running order.

For the first few weeks after her mother's death little Veronica sat every evening weeping silently by herself in a dark corner of the room. When Gertrude found her thus grieving, she asked kindly what ailed her, and again and again, she received only this sorrowful answer,

"I want my mother."

Gertrude drew the child tenderly towards her, caressing her, and promising her that they would all go together some day to join her mother, who had only gone on before, that she might get strong and well again. And gradually this second mother grew to take the place of her own, and no game, no amusement could draw the loving child away from Gertrude's side. Only Dietrich could succeed in enticing her to go with him now and then.

The lad's love for his mother showed itself in a louder and more demonstrative manner. He often threw his arms about her neck, crying passionately,

"My mother belongs to me and to nobody else."

Then Veronica's brows would knit over her flashing eyes, until they formed a long straight line across her face. But she did not speak. And Gertrude would put one arm about the boy's neck and the other about the little girl's, and say,

"You must not speak so, Dietrich. I belong to you both, and you both belong to me."

In general, the two children were excellent friends, and completely inseparable. They were not happy unless they shared everything together and wherever one went, the other must go too. They went regularly to school every morning, and were always joined by two of the neighbors' children, who went with them.

These were, the son of the shoemaker, long, bony Jost, with his little, cunning eyes,--and the sexton's boy, who was as broad as he was long, and from whose round face two pale eyes peered forth upon the world, in innocently stupid surprise. His name was Blasius, nicknamed Blasi.

Often, on the way to school, quarrels arose between Dieterli and the two other boys. It would occur to one of them to try what Veronica would do if he were to give her a blow with his fist. Scarcely had he opened his attack when he found himself lying on his nose, while Dieterli played a vigorous tattoo on his back with no gentle fists. Or the sport would be to plant a good hard snow-ball between Veronica's shoulders, with the mortifying result to the aggressive boy, of being pelted in the face with handfuls of wet snow, until he was almost stifled, and cried out for mercy. Dieterli was not afraid of either of them; for though smaller and thinner than either, he was also much more lithe, and could glide about like a lizard before, behind and all around his adversaries, and slip through their fingers while they were trying to catch him. Veronica was well avenged, and went on the rest of her way without fear of molestation. If one of the other lads felt in a friendly mood, and wished to act as escort to the little girl, Dieterli soon gave him to understand that that was his own place, and he would give it up to no one.

Every evening "Cousin Judith" came for a little visit, to give Gertrude some friendly advice about the children, or the household economy. She used to say that the gentle widow needed some one now and then to show claws in her behalf, and Judith knew herself to be in full possession of claws, and of the power to use them, an accomplishment of which she was somewhat proud. One evening she crossed over between daylight and dark, and entered the room where Veronica was, with her favorite plaything in her hand, moving it back and forth as she sat in the window in the waning light. She could read very nicely now for two years had passed since she had lost her own mother, and had become Gertrude's child. Many a time had she read over the motto which shone out so mysteriously from the breast of the opened rose. To-day she was poring over it again, and her absorption in "that same old rose," as Dieterli called it, had so annoyed the lively lad that he left her, and had gone out into the kitchen to find his mother. When Judith saw the girl sitting thus alone, buried in thought, she asked her what she was thinking about in the twilight all by herself.

Dieterli, whom no sound ever escaped, had heard Cousin Judith come in, and came running in from the kitchen to see what was going on. Veronica looked up at the visitor and asked earnestly,

"Cousin Judith, what is fortune?"

"Ah, you are always asking some strange question that no one else ever thought of asking;" said Cousin Judith, "where on earth did you ever hear of fortune?"

"Here," said Veronica, holding up the rose with the golden verse in the centre. "Shall I read it to you?"

"Yes, do, child."

Veronica read--

    "Fortune stands ready, full in sight;
     He wins who knows to grasp it right."

"Well, it means this--I should say--fortune is whatever anyone wants the most."

"Fortune is a horse, then," said Dietrich quickly.

Veronica sat thinking. "But, Cousin Judith," she said presently, "how can any one 'grasp fortune'?"

"With your hands," replied Cousin Judith unhesitatingly, "You see, our hands are given us to work with, and if we use them diligently and do our work well, as it ought to be done, then fortune comes to us; so don't you see we 'grasp it' with our hands?"

The verse had now become endued with life, and meant something real and attractive to Veronica. She did not lay her rose out of her hand for a long time, that evening, notwithstanding that Dietrich cast threatening glances upon it, and finally broke out in vexation,

"I will tear off the spring some time, and spoil the thing altogether."

The rose was not put into the book and the book into the cup-board, until the time came for the children to say their evening prayers. This was the closing act of every day; and it was so fixed and regular a habit, that the children never needed to be bidden to fold their hands, and kneel to ask God's blessing before they slept.