Chapter IV. All at Home.
 

Dietrich had already worked for some time in his father's business. It was all in the best possible condition; the work shop, the tools and materials had been carefully kept up, and everything was fresh and in good working order. The old customers had not withdrawn their custom, for the former workman who had served under Steffan for many years had continued his deceased master's methods, so that the reputation of the work was sustained, and as Fohrensee grew, so also the saddler's orders grew, and the business flourished. So Dietrich found his trade ready made to his hand, and as good a prospect lay before him as heart could wish. He took hold with a good will, and being his own master did not make him the less diligent. He was determined first to work faithfully till he had thoroughly learned the business, and then to travel for a while. When he had seen the world a bit he would come back, go on with the business farther and farther, and become a gentleman; and then--then--where could a happier man be found than he should be, living with his mother and Veronica in peace and plenty. His mother should pass her days in happy idleness if she wished, without care, without sorrow, in wealth and comfort, and Veronica! Yes, he would give Veronica a life far happier and more beautiful than she had ever dreamed of for herself! While his brain teemed with these pleasant thoughts, Dietrich sang and whistled at his work all day long, and did good work, too. He had a skilful hand and a clear head, and his work went successfully on.

Veronica had persuaded her mother to let her stay longer in the Industrial School than was usual with the young girls of the neighborhood. Even up to the day of her confirmation, she had taken sewing lessons twice from a most accomplished teacher. A short time before Easter, the teacher had assured Gertrude that Veronica had made such extraordinary progress, that she was already prepared to teach, and that she had completed the course taught at that school, and could learn no more there. Veronica certainly deserved farther training and the teacher suggested that it would be well worth while for her to take lessons in embroidery of lame Sabina in Fohrensee. She would then be sure of a position as a teacher, as high as her utmost ambition could desire.

It had always been Gertrude's plan to have Veronica learn to work at the saddler's business, as there is a good deal of the fine work which is suitable for women, and which it needs a woman's hand to carry out. She hoped that in this way her children could always remain together and with her. The fine embroidery for which lame Sabina was noted, it did not seem to her at all necessary for Veronica to learn, but she was willing to leave the decision to her. As soon as Veronica heard of this new work to be learned, she was eager to begin upon it, and she left her mother no peace until she extracted from her the promise that directly after the confirmation, this new undertaking should be entered upon.

A few days after Easter Sunday, Veronica went to take her first lesson. It was very early in the morning when she started to go down to Fohrensee; so early that people were just beginning to open their windows, and only here and there a sleepy face was to be seen at the door of a house. She had to go early in order to get in a good day's work, for she was to come home at night, and it was an hour's walk each way. She knew well the old cottage with the beautiful carnations illuminating its windows, which was the home of lame Sabina. The windows were already open, and the door also. She entered and her new life began.

Up in Tannenegg, Dietrich sat at his work, singing and whistling merrily. His mother, busy with her household affairs went hither and thither about the house, from sitting room to kitchen, and then with the feeding-bucket, out on the grass plat before the house, where a flock of handsome fowl were pecking about. All was still quiet in the neighboring houses, but over by the well stood the never-idle Judith, beating and turning her clothes as she washed them. Along the road with uncertain steps came the old sexton, swinging the big church-keys in his hand; he had been ringing the early morning peal. As he lifted his cap a little to salute Judith at the well, she called out,

"Good day, neighbor, I was just thinking it would be a good exchange if the old folks were to lie abed at this hour and let the young ones pull the bell rope."

"Well, some one must be doing it," said the other, and passed on his way.

Judith had been busy at her washing full two hours longer, when in the doorway of the sexton's house appeared a young fellow, whose figure, almost as broad as it was long, filled the opening, with scarce anything to spare. He tried to yawn, but there was not room enough to stretch his arms, so he stepped outside for the purpose, and there he gaped so heartily that all the inside of his big mouth and throat was distinctly visible.

"There's nothing in it, Blasi! I've had a good look at it," cried Judith. "If you had been here two hours ago, you might have seen a sight. A girl with a whole mouthful of gold! What do you say to that?"

Blasi caught at this, and brought his jaws together with a snap.

"What! full of gold?" he exclaimed, and opened his sleepy eyes to their utmost extent. "Why doesn't the foolish thing carry it in her pocket? Where does she come from?"

"That's no concern of yours. You will never come up with her," replied Judith.

"Tell me, for all that," urged Blasi, coming toward Judith, "I can go after her, and I've no doubt I shall come up with her, and then there's no telling what may happen. Come, where did she go, now? Do you know her name?"

"Her name is Early Morn, Blasi," said Judith pleasantly. "Did you never hear the saying, 'There's gold in the mouth of the early morn.'"

Blasi made a wry face and began in an angry tone,

"There's nothing very clever in that"--but just then he remembered that when he came out of the house he had intended to come over and say something quite different to Judith; so he changed his tone quickly, and said,

"Can you lend me a franc or two; I have just time to do a little business before eleven o'clock, and then I must be back to ring the noon bell; I must try to help father, a little."

"No, no, Blasi, I have no francs for you," said Judith decidedly. "It wants three hours yet of being eleven o'clock. Use those big arms of yours, and they'll bring you francs enough." And so saying, she lifted her clothes-basket on her head, and walked away.

Blasi stood looking after her, a moment, then he sauntered off, with both hands in his pockets, up the road towards, the shoemaker's old house. There sat Jost before the door, hammering away at something as if for dear life. Blasi drew near, and stood watching the busy hands of his friend, who presently cried out angrily,

"So it is holiday with you, is it, you lazy-bones? It is maddening to see one fellow go wandering about with his hands in his pockets, while another has to sit on his three-legged stool, hammering away at the soles of these--these--these Tanneneggers' boots. To-morrow is Cherry-festival in Fohrensee, and every one is going; and I, I must get their boots ready! I wish a thunder-storm would come and wash this away, and that, and the whole lot of 'em!" As he spoke he tossed away first the mended boots, then the hammer, and last of all the three-legged stool, away, as far as he could throw them, down into the meadow. He was white with rage.

"What stuff!" said Blasi, dryly. "You are paid for your cobbling; you are better off than I am. I haven't a rap, and am in debt besides. I was going to ask you if you couldn't lend me a franc. You have money, I know."

"Oh yes, you sleepy-head! It's very likely I have money for you, when I'm in such need of it myself! Go ask Dietrich; he has his pockets full, and a big heap besides. But don't be such a fool as to ask him for just one mean little franc; ask for five. I'll use two or three of them; tell him you'll pay him again in a week."

Blasi seemed rather undecided.

"I should have gone to him long ago," he said, "but his mother is always about, and she looks at a fellow as a bird does when somebody is trying to rob her nest. I'm afraid of her."

"Poh! it's all right enough to borrow a little money if you're going to pay it back again. Don't be a fool! Go along!" and Jost enforced his advise with an emphatic shove that sent Blasi rolling along much faster than he wished to go. He grumbled a little at this unpleasant style of progression, and muttered between his teeth,

"He's no right to treat me so; I'm as good as he is, any day."

When he reached Gertrude's garden, he stood still and looked over the hedge. Dietrich's mother was there, planting her vegetable bed. He sauntered back and forth for awhile, and when he saw her go to the other corner of the garden, he thought he could now get without being seen, into the room where he heard Dietrich whistling at his work. He went round the garden, and was just going in at the back gate, when he came plump against Gertrude. He went by quickly as if he had had no idea of going in; and then hung about watching his chance, but as time did not stand still while he waited, it was bye-and-bye eleven o'clock, and he had to go off to ring the noon bell.

In the afternoon, neighbor Judith was hoeing in her little garden. Blasi stood hesitating in his door-way, and then came out and stood watching her at her work.

"I am always surprised, Blasi," said Judith, looking up from her work, "to see you in company with a fellow, who steals your money from your pockets, before you know it is there. I would not have anything to do with such a one."

"What? who?" asked Blasi, fumbling in his empty pockets. "Who picks my pockets? Who are you talking about? I know I did have some; I wish you would tell me the thief."

"I'll tell no tales," said Judith, working away.

"Bah! tell me, won't you? A fellow can't defend himself unless he knows who is attacking him," growled Blasi. "You might say who you mean."

"Well, I will. Go and take him by the ear. His name is Idleness!" As Judith spoke, she raised her head, and looked Blasi full in the face; then she bent to her work again.

The lad was angry. He had hoped that he was going to get something back of which he had been robbed, and that Judith would help him as she had been a witness of the theft.

"Oh, what a fuss you make over a few minutes," he said crossly; "I have to go at four o'clock to ring the bell. I think I ought to take a little from the old man."

"I should say you took more from him than he had. It has just struck half past two; do you know how many minutes there are in an hour and a half?"

"There's no getting along with you," said Blasi, turning away.

"Well, you get along finely without me, so go on and prosper," said Judith quickly as the lad disappeared.

Blasi had by no means given up his project. He did not see anyone in Gertrude's garden as he passed along. He clambered up on the lattice by the hedge and peeped through the open window into the room. Dietrich's mother was seated near her son; both were working steadily, the young fellow was chattering and laughing gaily, and his mother answered and laughed too, but they did not stop working all the while. Blasi saw plainly that this was not the time to make his request. He would wait until the mother had gone to the kitchen, as she was sure to do bye-and-bye. Four o'clock came and the great business of his day was at hand; it was time to ring the bell, and he had to go. At last when evening came Blasi found his opportunity. He stood watching outside the door, when suddenly Dietrich threw it open, and started off with rapid strides.

Blasi called out, "Wait, wait a minute, can't you? What's your hurry?"

Dietrich turned about.

"What do you want? Tell me quickly. I'm going to meet Veronica; she can't come home alone through the woods after dusk."

"Well, look here," said Blasi, breathing hard with his haste, and holding Dietrich by the arm. "You see, I'm in trouble for want of a few francs or so. Can't you lend them to me? I'll give them back again very soon."

"I haven't that much about me now. Stop a minute--yes, here are two francs and here's a half; will that be enough?" and throwing the money to Blasi, the young man hastened away.

As evening drew on, Gertrude stood at the end of the garden and looked down the road. She listened to every sound that came from below. She was waiting for her children's voices, for the sound of their footsteps; her children, who made her life, her happiness, her hope! Ah! there they are! that is Dietrich's voice talking eagerly, while Veronica's bell-like laugh sounds clear through the still evening air. With a heart filled to overflowing with happiness, Gertrude went forth to meet them.

As they sat together round the table in their usual cheerful mood, the mother asked for an account of this, Veronica's first day among strangers, and how she liked her new work.

"Very much indeed, mother," was the answer, and the young girl's face beamed with a smile that swept away all trace of the clouds that sometimes marred its beauty.

"I can't tell you how delightful it is to be able to earn so much. But after all, mother dear, the best part is that I can come home to you at night."

"That's what I think too," said Dietrich quickly, and you had but to look in his eyes to see that he spoke the truth.

"And I am as glad as either of you," said Gertrude smiling. "It has been a long day for me. It seems a great while since you started off this morning, Veronica."

"What! when your only son was sitting by you all day long?" asked Dietrich playfully.

"Oh, you know what I mean. I need you both to make me perfectly happy, and cannot spare either of you;" and she looked from one to the other with caressing glances.

Veronica told them all about the new teacher and the new work, and it was late in the evening before the three separated for the night.