Chapter III. Nine Years Later.
 

A sunshiny Easter morning shone over hill and valley. A crowd of holiday-making people poured out of the little church at Tannenegg, and scattered in every direction. A long row of blooming lads and lassies came in close ranks, moving slowly towards the parsonage. They were the newly-confirmed young people of the parish, who had that day partaken of the Communion for the first time. They were going to the house of their pastor, to express their gratitude for his careful and tender teaching and guidance, before they went out into the world. Among these were Dietrich and Veronica. Gertrude stood at a little distance from the church, and watched the procession as it passed by. Her eyes were filled with tears of pleasurable emotion, as she noticed that her dark-eyed Veronica was conspicuous among all the maidens for the tasteful neatness of her costume, and for the sweetness and grace of her bearing. The glance which Veronica cast upon the mother in passing was full of love and gratitude; and seemed to repeat the words that the faithful girl had spoken in the morning, as she left her to go to the church. "I cannot thank you enough, as long as I live, for what you have done for me, mother." A yet brighter expression of happiness crossed Gertrude's countenance when the young men came in procession after the girls, as her eyes fell on the well-formed lad, a head taller than his companions, who nodded at her, and greeted her with merry laughing looks, kissing his hand again and again, and yet once again. That was her tall handsome Dietrich. His mother's heart leaped in her breast at the sight of his fresh young life, so full of hope and promise. Gertrude waited till the visit to the pastor was over, and the young people had separated on their various paths. Then she in her turn entered the parsonage. She wished herself to speak her thanks to this true and long tried adviser and friend, for all that he had done for her children.

"You are a fortunate mother," said the aged pastor, after he had listened to Gertrude's expressions of gratitude. "Those are two uncommon children that the good God has confided to your care, and I feel the greatest interest in them. The lad has a clear head, and a winning grace that draws everyone to him. Veronica is serious and conscientious; she has a calm steady nature and can be depended upon for fidelity to duty, such as it is rare to find. The children will be your stay and comfort in your old age. May you keep them in the paths of virtue."

"With God's help;" said Gertrude, and she left the parsonage with tears of happiness in her eyes. As she passed the garden of her neighbor Judith, the latter called out over the low hedge,

"They have just gone by, all four of them. It always seems to me strange that while all babies in the cradle look just alike, so that you can't tell them apart, they grow up to be such very different men and women."

"No, no, these four were never alike," replied Gertrude, "but I agree that they grow more and more unlike every day."

"Yes, that they do. And of you three near neighbors, you certainly have drawn the best lot in children," said Judith with enthusiasm, "two like your two are not to be found in a long day's journey. Veronica will fully repay you for what you have done for her."

"I have been repaid long ago by the child's attachment to me. She has never given me anything but satisfaction ever since her mother died. If I have any anxiety about Veronica it is lest she over-work herself. There is something feverish in her love of work; she can never do enough. No matter how late I go into her room at night, she is always finishing off some piece of work; and no matter how early I get up in the morning, she has already begun something new. If I had not positively forbidden it, she would keep at it even on a Sunday. It is a real source of anxiety to me, lest she should over-work and break down."

"Oh, I don't think you need be afraid of that, Gertrude; work never yet hurt any one, least of all the young folks. Let her work away. But I don't see the need of her scowling so all the time. She looks for all the world as if she were fighting and struggling against enemies and difficulties of all sorts. I like better Dietrich's laughing eyes; they are so full of fun. When he goes down the street singing--

    'Gladly and merrily
     Live to-day cheerily,
     Black care and sorrow
     Leave till to-morrow,'

it goes right to my heart, and I could sing too for very joy. No one can help loving him."

Gertrude listened with sunshine in her face to these words of praise, but a little cloud of anxiety shadowed her eyes as she said,

"Yes, God be praised, he is a good boy and means well, but I do wish that he had a little of Veronica's firmness of purpose. It is very pleasant to have every one like him, but too great popularity is not always a good thing. And those two companions that are always hanging about him, are not such as I myself would choose for his friends."

"If they could all be put to some steady work it would be the best thing for them," said Judith. "Idleness is the mother of mischief. Blasi is not an ill-meaning fellow, but he is lazy, greatly to his own injury. Long Jost is the worst of the two; a sly-boots, and a rare one too. It is to be hoped that he will break his own leg, when he's trying to trip some one else up with it."

"No, no, Judith, on this holy Easter day, we will not have such unkind hopes as that. I hope and believe that the good God holds the children in his protecting hand. We have given them to him; that is my comfort and support Good-bye, Judith; come often to see us; we are always glad of your company."

On the evening of this sunny Easter day, while rosy clouds moved slowly across the clear sky, and the golden glow faded in the far west behind the wooded heights, Gertrude came back from a long walk in the fields and woods. On one side of her strode Dietrich, talking rapidly and earnestly: the fresh joy of youth was written in every movement of his little figure, and laughed from the depths of his clear eyes. On the other side Veronica walked, listening in silence. Her noble features, above which her black hair fell in shining waves, had a serious, thoughtful expression, but every now and then, when Dietrich let fall some particularly apt expression, a look would cross her face that irradiated it like a sunbeam crossing a shadowed plain. Mother Gertrude looked now proudly at her radiant son, now approvingly at her stately daughter, and again she lifted grateful glances towards the glowing heavens where she saw promise of another brilliant day to come. Far and wide, in all Tannenegg, was not to be found that day, such another happy mother as Gertrude.

When they reached the crossways where the footpath led up by the tavern of the Rehbock, Dietrich turned into it, and his mother was about to follow him, but Veronica drew her back, saying anxiously,

"Don't go that way, mother dear; it is not much farther by the other road."

Dietrich laughed aloud.

"Now there it is again. Do you know, mother, that I can never get Veronica to go past the Rehbock. She would rather go ten minutes farther round, and she will not say why either. To-day, Veronica, I am determined that you shall go this way or tell us why not."

"No; to-day we will not quarrel, Dietrich, please;" said the girl entreatingly, but with a tone that showed no signs of yielding her point, "let us sing a song as we go; mother loves to hear us sing."

As she spoke, she walked steadily along the road, and the others followed,

"Well then," said the lad, "let's sing 'Gladly and merrily'"--and he began to sing the familiar tune.

"To-night I should rather sing the Fisher-boat," said Veronica, and without demur the good-natured boy dropped his song, and joined his clear tones with Veronica's steady voice, the two harmonizing perfectly as they sang:

    "A tiny boat, a fisher-boat,
        Tossed lightly on the silver sea;
     Around the rocks, in air, afloat
        The white gulls circle lazily.
     A tiny boat, a fisher-boat--
        The fisher draws his slender line;
     He half in dream-land seems to float.
        Saying, 'to-morrow will be fine.'"

Softly singing, in the soft falling shadows of evening, the happy trio drew towards their home, and disappeared within the cottage door.