Chapter IX. Mother Gertrude Also Gives Good Advice.
 

The cold, dismal December days had come. It was always long after dark now, before Veronica got home; but she never had to hurry, for fear of going through the wood alone, for there stood Blasi always ready at the turf hut on the edge of Fohrensee, just where the houses ceased and it began to be lonely. If it was fine, he was walking up and down before the hut; if it stormed, he was standing under the shelter of the roof. He was never absent and he never came too late. Yet he was busy all day long, and had to run half the way to get to the hut in time. His master did not let him off one moment before the appointed day's work was over, Blasi's application to learn the saddler's trade had been favorably received by Gertrude and he had set to work at once. Now that he worked from morning till night he never had time to put his hands in his pockets, and the saddler kept him up to the mark, proud of showing how well he himself understood the business. Blasi was contented, and more than contented with his life; he had a new and very happy consciousness of being of use, and he had risen in his own estimation. He felt like a man of property, almost like a gentleman. By the time he had finished his day's work, and hurried down to Fohrensee and walked back again, he was so tired that he was ready to go to bed directly; he had no time nor desire to loaf. And so it came about that when Veronica wished to give him his piece of money every evening he objected; for he said he did not want to be paid; he preferred to have his services accepted on the ground of friendship. Veronica consented to accept them on that ground, but from time to time she would say, "Blasi, this is your birthday," or "To-day is the cherry-festival, I should like to make you a little present," or "I have had extra work to-day, and I should like to give you part of the extra pay, for if you had not been coming for me, I could not have waited to do it, so it is fairly yours;" and each time she pressed into his hand such a large piece of money that he soon had a considerable sum laid away. Then one day she gave him a silk handkerchief; and another day half-a-dozen new shirts, white as snow; and then again a package of handkerchiefs hemmed and ready for use; and all this increase of property raised his standard of living, and excited his ambition.

The night before Christmas, Veronica was late in coming home. It was dark and stormy. She had been delayed at the school, making preparations for leaving everything in order for the holiday.

When she came into the sitting-room she found her mother at work by lamp-light, mending a ragged old mail-bag. Advancing years had told upon Gertrude; and although industrious as ever, she could not work as easily as she once did.

"Oh mother, I cannot let you do that heavy piece of work," said Veronica, as soon as she saw what her mother was about. "Didn't I tell you that I would come home in time to dress the house for Christmas, and now you have not only done all that, but you are at work on that old mail-bag. I can't bear to have you do so. Why won't you let me do something for you, and take a little rest yourself. You look so tired."

"You need the evening to rest in too, dear child, after working steadily all day," said Gertrude affectionately. "And I am very glad when there is a piece of work like this that I can do. I want him to find everything as it used to be, when he comes home. I think that with care and industry I can manage so that I shall not be obliged to give up this house while he is away. I am sure it will be a great comfort to him to find that he still has his home. And besides I feel that it will help him to begin life anew, and bring him back to his old right-minded way of thinking. Oh, if he would only come home!"

"Mother, mother, that is no reason why you should work beyond your strength. You have taken care of me all these long years, and now it is fairly my turn to take care of you. Do not worry about the house, dear; I have made an arrangement with the cattle-dealer. When you told me that he threatened to take it, I went to him and got him to let me settle with him instead. He was very glad that I wanted it, for he said that he didn't see what good it would be to him, and he gave me my time about paying for it."

"Is that true, Veronica?" said Gertrude, and a happy smile stole over her face. "You do not know what a load you have taken from my heart! Oh, you are good and brave! If I could only see you look happy, how glad I should be! If I could find out how to make you happy! I would do anything in the world for you, if I only knew how!"

"There is no use in thinking about it, mother dear. Happiness is not for me. It may be for others, but not for me." Veronica spoke with strong emotion. "I have worked and struggled for it ever since I can remember anything, but all in vain. Cousin Judith told me that work was the way to fortune, and that 'fortune' meant whatever one wanted most; and so I worked, always, even when I did not know what it was that I wanted most. Afterwards when I learned that for me happiness was the best fortune, I worked on, for I wanted to be happy, but I was not. I always brooded over my work, thinking of all the unpleasant and troublesome things that had happened. Then Sabina told me how, when she was terribly unhappy about her deformity, she had found relief in books, in reading," and Veronica went on to tell how Sabina had sent her delightful books and how she had tried to drive away her own sorrow by the new interests which she found in them. "But you see," she added with a sigh, "it did not help me; nothing helps me. When I read, I was still unhappy. What difference did it make to me, all that was written in the books; it did not make my troubles less. The old thoughts came right in and left me no peace. Even while I was reading I could not fix my mind on the book, and when I laid the book down, I had gained nothing, but was as sad and hopeless as ever. Happiness is not for me, and the little motto upon my rose may be true for others; it is not true for me. I cannot 'grasp' the only 'fortune' I care for."

Veronica spoke passionately; with a vehemence that Gertrude had never before heard from her. Her strong, self-controlled nature had never before given way and found expression in words. Now the flood-gates were opened, the stream broke through. Gertrude was distressed at her unwonted emotion. "Veronica," she said, sadly and lovingly, "this pains me. I had no idea of your feeling; no conception of your having suffered so. You are always so quiet and reserved that I thought you had peace within, though your face is so often clouded with apparent discontent. Now I see that your heart is heavy. If I could only show you the way to peace--that is the way to happiness.

The girl said nothing; she only shook her head as if to say: "Peace is not for me," and her eyes shone like fire with her inward excitement.

"Veronica," said Gertrude presently, "to-morrow is Christmas day. Do you remember how when you were little children we always prayed together at night, and how happy you always were at Christmas, and how gladly you said your little prayer? Will you not pray with me now, my child, as we did in those dear old days?"

The girl turned her face aside and wiped away her tears. "I will, mother," she said, making an effort to control herself, "it will bring back those happy days in memory, and give you a little pleasure."

She folded her hands and began to repeat the Lord's prayer. Gertrude followed reverently. When she reached the words, "Forgive us our trespasses," Veronica hid her face in her hands, and broke into violent sobs.

"No, mother, I must not say it. I cannot forgive him. I cannot forgive Dietrich for having treated you so, and then run away and hidden himself without writing a single word, to tell you where he is. He must know how you are suffering, and I too. And that Judas! I can never, never forgive him. He led Dietrich astray and deceived him. He has destroyed all our happiness. How can I forgive him? Doesn't he deserve our hatred? Can I help wishing him the worst punishment that ever befell a human being?"

Veronica sobbed as if the long-pent-up agony of her heart would never again submit to be restrained. Silently Gertrude sat with folded hands, waiting till the storm was spent. At last she said softly,

"If I felt as you do, my child, I could not bear it at all. It would kill me. But I do not feel so. When my Dieterli was a little child and I had to do everything for him, before he was old enough to take care of himself, there was much in his character and conduct that made me anxious. He always wanted to be first in everything, and whatever he wished for, that he must have, without delay and without effort on his part. And as he grew older and these qualities strengthened, I often felt that with his headstrong disposition he could never become great and good, without the discipline of a severe school. From the earliest hours of his life, I gave him into God's hands, and prayed for God's care and guidance. And through all these years my constant prayer for my boy has been, 'Lead him where Thou wilt, Oh God, only let him not fall out of Thy hands; When this heavy trial came, which was almost beyond my strength to bear, I did not lose my faith that the God to whom I had given him, would not let my Dieterich be lost. If the hard lessons of life have begun for Dietrich, he must learn them thoroughly; and if his sins are to be purged away, he must suffer in the process. And though I suffer too, it is God's will; I have had much schooling in my life, and have learned much and gained much from it. Do not feel so hardly against Dietrich because he has not written to us. Perhaps he has written, and the letter has gone astray. I look for a letter every day, but if he does not write, we may be sure that he is in great trouble, poor boy! He knows how we feel toward him, and if he has gone into evil ways we must pity him the more and pray God to bring him back into the right path again. As to Jost, I think as you do, that he is to blame for our poor boy's troubles. He led him astray and then played him false. Jost is a poor lost sheep who has wandered far from the fold. He has no one to care for him, no one to lead him back again. He is alone in the world. Should not we pray that he may be shown the wickedness of his ways, that his conscience may be awakened and that he may repent and his soul be saved?"

Veronica had listened attentively to all that Gertrude had said. After a silence she said thoughtfully,

"Mother, are you made happy by this faith in God?"

And without a moment's hesitation came the answer;

"I know of nothing that can make us so happy as this faith--the strong confidence in our hearts that our Father in Heaven orders and watches over our lives, and that everything which happens to us is for our good, if we obey him and hold fast to him. I do not know much, Veronica; I have not read nearly as much as lame Sabina, or as you have, and you understand things far better than I do; but it seems to me that you would have gained more from your reading, if you had tried to find something in the books, which you could use to help you in your trouble, and not merely to find out something new about what other people do and how they live."

"If you learned from these books that our Lord Jesus Christ first taught the lesson that all men are equal in the sight of God, and that one soul is of as much worth as another before Him, then it must have been told there too, how our Savior brought us the glad tidings that we have a Father in Heaven, who loves His children and who will bless them if they put their trust in Him. Our Savior shows us the way to our Heavenly Father, and will help us to overcome all the difficulties that stand in our path. He speaks to us with a tenderness beyond that of any other friend, and bids us lay our burdens upon Him and He will help us to bear them."

"But mother," said Veronica, looking with a wonder that was almost awe upon the peaceful countenance of the mother, "can you truly say that you have found peace and happiness, while you have no news from him, and do not know what dreadful tidings any minute may bring you?"

"Yes, Veronica, I can and I do say so," answered Gertrude, and her face even without words would have borne witness to the truth of what she said. "I know that what ever comes to us, comes from God, and is for our good. But Veronica, we must put away all hatred and bitterness from our hearts; these feelings are all evil, and we must ask to be forgiven for them. Shall I go on with the prayer, where you left off, my child? Try to join with me; it will help you, dear."

And Gertrude finished the Lord's prayer.

Veronica sat silent for a time, and then rose and went to her own room. She could not sleep, but she had no inclination to seek relief for trouble in her sewing, as she had been accustomed to do. Gertrude's words were working in her heart. How often had she said lately in the proud bitterness of her heart, "A fine truth indeed!

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

And now Gertrude had shown her that the words were true after all, and that she had herself grasped Happiness, the truest Fortune, even in the midst of a deep sorrow, greater even than Veronica's own.

Sleeplessly for Veronica the hours of the night went by; but over and over again the mother's words sounded in her ears, and she strove to quiet with them the trouble and unrest of her heart.