would go to find out the best place for camping and for the battle.
“Ah, so, Churi!” a little fellow in the crowd shouted, “that is why you voted for church, that you might do outside what you want to!”
Churi cried, much vexed: “That must be on account of discipline; if you do not want to go, then don’t, and the Upper Wooders will pay you for it.” This threat was effective, just as Churi wanted it to be.
The whole army should not come together until after the organ dedication was over in the morning, and the midday meal which followed at once, was finished; and in the morning only Churi with his officers should march out to arrange all places and positions. So he had planned. The officers whom he had chosen were all his good friends, the toughest Middle Lotters that could be found.
About this time a year ago, he had, with the very same boys, broken into the Mayor’s vineyard and stolen all his very best, fine Alsatian grapes. He intended to do this again with his confidential friends, for it had never been found out who had stolen the grapes, although they had tried in all the three communities to find the culprits, and this had greatly encouraged Churi and his allies. But he knew how careful the Mayor had been this year, and he knew very well of his daily walks and that in the afternoon his wife also took a walk in the direction of the vineyard, and in the evening they often took the same walk together; so that the culprits had not any day been sure of them. But on Organ-Sunday no one would be outside–of that Churi was convinced; therefore he had arranged everything in view of that, for although there would be an investigation, all the many Lower Wooders and Middle Lotters would be in that region, and the culprits would never be found out from among such a large crowd.
After Churi had told his army of his battle plans, they dispersed in all directions. A number of spectators had gathered around the warriors, every child in Middle Lot, down to the two-year-olds. Ahead of all was Kaetheli, who was always on the spot when something was to be seen or heard. When she left the meadow, she saw Erick standing near the hedge, where he had stood for a long time watching the tumultuous crowd. Kaetheli ran to him. “This will be such a fight as never before,” she called to him with admiration. “Don’t you want to be in it, Erick?”
“No,” he answered drily.
“Because they act as I do not care to act.”
“Not? You are a peculiar boy, you are always alone. Do you know where you are going Monday when Marianne goes away from here?”
“You are going to be auctioned off. My father has said so.”
“What is that?” asked Erick, who now listened more attentively to Kaetheli.
“Oh, there are a crowd of people in the room and they bid on you, and whoever bids the lowest gets you.”
“That is stupid,” said Erick.
“Why is it stupid?”
“Because they would get more money if they gave me to him who offers the most.”
“No, you did not understand. You are not going to be sold, quite the reverse; he who gets you also gets the money–do you understand now?”
“Who gives him the money?”
“Well, that is not a person, as you think,” Kaetheli explained. “Do you see, there is a money box with money in it for the people who are poor and miserable and homeless.”
Erick grew purple.
“I am not going to be auctioned,” he said defiantly.
“Yes, indeed, Erick, that cannot be helped. One has to obey before one is confirmed. If you do not obey, then someone just puts you on his shoulder and takes you to the auction room.”
After Kaetheli had instructed Erick in what was coming to him, she bade him good-night and went her way. Erick stayed on the same spot and did not move. He had become deathly pale and his blue eyes flashed defiance and indignation, which had never been seen in this sunny face. Thus Erick stood on the same spot when Churi came by on his way home.
“Have they made you angry, velvet panty? I never have seen you so mad,” he exclaimed and stopped near the hedge.
He received no answer.
“You join us in the fight and strike hard; that will relieve your feelings.”
Erick shook his head.
“Don’t be such a sneak, and say something. The fellow who has made you wrathful will no doubt be there, then you can get at him.”
“It is no boy,” grumbled Erick.
“So, who then, perhaps Kaetheli?”
“I will not go to be auctioned,” Erick burst out and his anger flashed as never before.
“Well, well, is that all. That is nothing,” Churi thought. “You just come with us and you will forget the auction on the spot. Or are you afraid of the thrashing, you fine velvet pants? Do you know what? I could tell you something that would suit you?”
Churi had caught an idea: he had heard something of some danger that was lurking among the Mayor’s grapes, and the others too knew something about it; so he reckoned that none of the others would go first and he himself would prefer to have some other fellow first find out whether a trap was laid somewhere, in which the first one would fall, while the rest would be warned. For this post of inspection Erick fitted splendidly.
“Well, will you?” he urged the silent Erick.
But the latter shook his head negatively.
“And if I help you so that you need not be auctioned, will you then?”
“How can you do that?” Erick asked doubtingly.
“As soon as I want to,” boasted Churi. “Don’t you know that my father is the sergeant here? He goes into every house along the whole mountain, far beyond Lower Wood, and he knows all the people and can place you where he likes. You only need to say what you want to do: take care of the cows, deliver letters, push little children along in their carriages–whatever you like best.”
Erick had never heard lying, he did not know what it was. He believed word for word what the swaggering Churi told him. He considered a moment and then he asked: “What shall I have to do for that?”
“Something which you yourself will find more merry than anything you ever did. You can go with me and the officers in the morning. You are the scout and always go first to see whether the land is clear and safe for us and where we can best pitch our tents and give battle. But one thing I have to tell you: you have to obey me. I am the general, and if you do not do at once what I tell you, you suffer for it. First we go through a vineyard–“
“One cannot give battle there, nor camp,” Erick interrupted.
“That makes no difference,” Churi continued, “you listen to what I tell you. You have to go through the vineyard and not make a bit of noise, do you hear? And not run away, else–” Churi lifted his fist threateningly. “You must not tell anyone where we are going, do you hear?”
“I am not going,” said Erick.
“Then go to the auction–that is the best thing for you; I am going now, good night.”
But Churi nevertheless remained. The blood again rushed into Erick’s cheeks. He hesitated a moment, then he asked: “If I go with you, are you sure that I can get there, where I deliver letters?”
“Of course you can,” Churi grumbled.
“Then I will go.”
“Give me your hand on it!”
Churi held out his hand and Erick laid his in it. Churi kept hold of the hand. “Promise that you will be there under the apple tree on the meadow at seven o’clock Sunday morning.”
“I promise,” said Erick.
Churi let go of his hand, said “Good night,” and disappeared behind the cottage.
The news of the day spread with wonderful rapidity through the schools of the three parishes. The next evening, the evening before Organ-Sunday, every child in Upper and Lower Wood, and above all, in Middle Lot, knew that the quiet Erick all at once belonged to the rowdies; that he was not only going to fight with them in the Sunday battle, but that he was going with the worst rowdy, with Churi and his companions, early in the morning before church.
Sally came with swollen eyes to supper, for Kaetheli had informed her of everything: how the fine Erick, whom she would so gladly have taken into her home and her friendship, had fallen into the hands of the coarse and wicked Churi and would be ruined and led to do all kinds of wicked things by the bad boy. All this made her tender heart ache. She had gone, in the afternoon, to the solitary bench under the apple tree and had wept until supper time; for, in spite of deep thinking, she had not been able to find a way by which she could snatch Erick away from the bad companions.
Edi, too, wore a drawn face as though he lived on trouble and annoyance only, and his inner wrath goaded him to unpleasant speeches, for he hardly had taken his seat at table, when he looked across at Sally and said: “You can count to-morrow the blue bumps which your friend Erick will carry home with him, when he begins in the morning before church and serves under Churi.”
Not much was needed to make Sally break out. “Yes, I know, Edi, that you would prefer to begin this evening and fight through the whole day to-morrow,” she cried, half sobbing, half defiant, looking across the table, “if Papa had not forbidden it.”
Edi became flushed, for it came into his mind how long he had searched for an example after which he might take part and yet hold his own before his father.
The latter looked earnestly at him and said: “Edi, Edi, I hope you will try not to be a Pharisee. It is a bad sign for the boy Erick that he has joined the fighters, moreover, and that he has made friends with the very worst rowdy. But, dear Sally, you need not knock your potatoes so roughly about your plate as if they were to blame for all the unpleasant things; eat them peacefully.”
But Sally could not swallow anything more. When soon after Edi lay in his bed, he heaved a deep sigh and said: “Everything is over for me, but I will be glad for one thing, that tomorrow comes, because to-morrow is Sunday. You know what we get to-morrow, Ritz?”
“No, I don’t mean that, I mean something nice.”
“But Sunday school is nice.”
“No, I don’t mean that either, I mean something which one can use very well, when no other pleasure comes along.”
“An oracle,” Ritz said quickly, much contented with the delightful prospect.
“Ritz, you do guess such ridiculous things. I have told you that there are no more oracles. There will be apple-cake, that is what I meant,” Edi said with a sigh, for now he saw again all the things for which he had wished so much more than apple-cake.
“And do you know, Edi,” said Ritz, following his own train of thought, “to-morrow Sally will not be able to eat again because Erick gets his bumps; then we will also get her share, and that will make three pieces for each.” With these words Ritz turned happily on his side and went to sleep.
What Happens on Organ-Sunday
Early in the morning, long before the nine o’clock church service, large crowds of people were walking toward Upper Wood, for everybody wanted to hear the new organ. It was a beautiful Sunday and everyone preferred to go to Upper Wood to church. The women all carried a few beautiful flowers on their hymnbooks, and when they had arrived at the open place before the church they stopped and greeted each other and stood talking in different groups. Gradually the men came along and did the same.
The Mayor was standing a little on one side with the Justice of Peace. They were in deep conversation in which many threats occurred, for the Mayor several times held up his finger and waved it threateningly in the air.
Kaetheli stood close beside her father and pricked up her ears. Now the church bells began to ring. Soon after the pastor’s wife and Sally came out of their house door, and behind them quiet, devout Edi and Ritz with hymn-books under their arms. After a few steps they all stopped to wait for the pastor. Now the old wife of the sexton ran to the pastor’s wife; she always had to report something as soon as she caught sight of her. Kaetheli took advantage of the opportunity. Like a flash she was from her father’s side and whispered with the greatest rapidity in Sally’s ear: “Just think what I know now. Last evening Neighbor Rudi, who belongs to Churi’s officers, told me that it was not on account of the fight that they were going away in the morning; but that they were going into the Mayor’s vineyard and were going to take his early grapes; that Churi had persuaded Erick to come along, because he wants to send him ahead through the vineyard, because a trap might be set there. Of course Erick would be caught and the others could be warned and pass by, without harm. But imagine what the Mayor has just told father: he has had something placed in the narrow pathway which leads through the grape vines which no one can see; but if anyone steps on it, it discharges a shot in the face and burns it so that no one could recognize him any more, for it would mar him so badly. Just think, Erick’s curls will be burned off and his handsome face will be so marred that we shall not know him.”
Sally had become as white as snow from fright. “Come quickly, Kaetheli,” she said urgently, “we will run after Erick and tell him everything, come!”
“It is much too late, why, what do you think,” Kaetheli said, “they started early this morning. Erick is already burned.”
Now the pastor came out. The mother turned and took Sally’s hand, who tried to stay behind. Kaetheli went toward the church, and Sally knew that she too had to go in; but she could hardly walk from fear and anguish, and as she sat on her bench within, she saw and heard nothing of the whole organ festivities, for she only saw the disfigured Erick before her, how he was sitting in the vineyard and moaning, and her tears fell so plentifully that she could no longer look up.
Churi and his officers had assembled at the set time. Erick also had kept his word and was there. Although the companions had started early, they met single churchgoers on their way to Upper Wood, for these people wanted to look around on their way to church, to see how things were in the fields and gardens, and so they had set off in good time.
Now Churi had commanded his officers that they must each bring a basket, for there was no time to eat the grapes in the vineyard; they must cut them quickly and throw them into their baskets, then they would go into the woods, to a safe place, and eat them in peace. But armed with baskets the officers appeared somewhat suspicious; Churi himself thought so and he now ordered, when they arrived at Upper Wood, that his officers should hide the baskets behind a barn, until all the church-goers had entered the church and the roads were safe.
Erick had already asked twice what the baskets were needed for on an inspection march, but he had received no answer. As now the warriors sat hidden behind the heap of straw and had time for questions and answers, Erick asked again: “What are you going to put in the baskets?”
“Grapes, if you insist on knowing!” Churi shouted at him, “and you too will find them good when you eat them.”
After the bells had stopped ringing and all was quiet round about, Churi commanded them to start. “But you will be very quiet when you pass the church, do you hear?” he ordered; “for the doors are still open.”
Full, bright organ tones came through the opened doors toward the boys when they silently approached the church, and now, suddenly, the whole congregation joined with the tones of the organ and sang in loud, full chorus:
“How shall I then receive Thee?
And how shall I then meet Thee?
Oh, Thou, the world’s desire
Who set’st my heart on fire!”
Like lightning Erick was away out of the midst of his companions to the church-door and into the church.
Churi grew pale from fright; he believed nothing less than that Erick had rushed into the church to betray publicly to the whole congregation the intended grape-theft. Instantly he turned around and ran away like a madman, for he firmly believed that half the congregation was on his heels, since he heard a crowd running after him. But the runners were his companions, who followed him in greatest haste, for since they saw the brave Churi run like fire, they thought that there must be great danger, and they rushed with always longer and longer leaps after him.
Erick had run into the midst of a crowd of people, who all stood in the passage of the church because there were no more seats on the benches, so full was the church. Now the hymn, accompanied by the organ, rushed like a big, full stream on through the church:
“Thy Zion scatters palms
And greening twigs for Thee,
But I in glorious psalms
Will lift my soul to Thee!
My heart be overflowing
In constant love and praise
In service will be growing,
Will Thy dear name then grace.”
In breathless attention Erick stood there, for it was his mother’s song! He was trembling in every limb and large tears ran down his cheeks. A woman who sat near him noticed the trembling little fellow; she drew him compassionately close to her and made a little room for him, so that he could sit down.
The singing had stopped and the pastor began to preach. During the sermon Erick recovered a little from the strong emotion which had quite overpowered him when he suddenly heard in such powerful tones his lost song again.
He now looked round and saw that he was firmly wedged in and could not move, for two more women had forced themselves between the sitters, and the whole passage the full length of the church was densely thronged with people. So Erick sat, quiet as a mouse, and did not stir until the sermon and prayer were at an end. Then once more the full tones of the organ sounded and the congregation rose and sang:
“I lay in heaviest fetters,
Thou com’st and set’st me free;
I stood in shame and sorrow,
Thou callest me to Thee;
And lift’st me up to honor
And giv’st me heavenly joys
Which cannot be diminished
By earthly scorn and noise.”
His mother had sung that at the very last. Erick saw her again before him, as she had sat the last evening at the piano and had spoken to him with words so full of love; and then, in the morning, she had lain there so still and pale. He laid his head on the arm of the bench and sobbed as if his heart would break. The people passed by him, and here and there one woman said to another: “The poor little fellow, he has no one on this earth,” and then they went out.
The pastor in the pulpit had seen Erick rush into church. He now looked again in that direction, and noticed the little chap, how he sat there on the empty bench, so forsaken, his head resting on his arm. The pastor now walked behind the last of the congregation toward the bench. He stepped into the pew and put his hand on Erick’s shoulder and asked kindly: “Why are you weeping so hard, my boy?”
“Because–because–because they sang Mother’s song,” sobbed Erick.
“What is your name?” the pastor asked again.
“Erick Dorn,” was the answer.
Now the pastor knew what to do. He took the boy’s hand in his fatherly hand, pulled him down from the high bench and said: “Come with me, my boy!”
At the parsonage the three children stood waiting for the father’s return, as they did every Sunday. Sally had not said a word since they had left church; now she came close to her mother and said, quite excited: “Please, please, Mamma, may I go now at once to Kaetheli? I have to talk over something with her, really I must.”
Sally had made up her mind to go out into the vineyards to look for Erick, but she did not know the way, so Kaetheli was to go with her. But the mother opposed Sally’s urging and said: “You know, dear, that we have dinner at once, and father does not allow such running away on Sunday. There he comes now. Who is the little boy whose hand he is holding?”
Sally uttered a loud shout of joy and tore away. “Oh, Erick! you are not burnt!” she cried, beside herself with joy, when she now saw Erick before her with his abundant curls and bright eyes.
“Of course not,” said Erick, politely lifting his little cap and offering his hand to her, a little surprised, for he did not know when he could have burned himself. Quickly she took his hand and so the three met the surprised mother who, however, at the sight of Erick, guessed at once who the fine boy in the velvet jacket was. She greeted him lovingly and stroked his tear-stained eyes and flushed cheeks.
Sally would have liked to ask at once how all had happened, and would have urged him to tell everything; but when she saw how he must have wept, she shrank from enquiring and held his hand quietly. Edi and Ritz also noticed at once the traces of tears and greeted him quite calmly.
The pastor left his family to go to his room and the mother took his place and conducted Erick, whom Sally on the other side held firmly by the hand, up the stairs; Ritz and Edi followed. When ‘Lizebeth, who was standing in the kitchen door, saw the procession come and noticed that the mother held the little stranger so tenderly by his hand, as though he were her own small Ritz, then ‘Lizebeth at once shut the kitchen door, and grumbled: “There is something wrong about this!”
Soon after, the whole family sat around the noonday table, and if Sally could not eat yesterday from sorrow, today she could not swallow anything from pure joy, not even the apple cake, which surprised Ritz very much. But he was glad that the sad Erick also got some, for he thought that that must comfort him.
In the evening of this Sunday, Erick sat in the midst of the pastor’s family around the four-cornered sitting-room table, as snugly and familiarly as if he long since belonged there. He had been treated, the whole afternoon, with such kindness by all, that his whole heart, which had been accustomed to a mother’s great love, opened, and he felt more happy than he had in all the sad days since he had had to miss this love. Sally did not know how she could do enough to give him pleasure. Now she had brought the most beautiful picture book that she owned, and Erick looked with her at the pictures, which she eagerly explained to him; all the time beaming with joy that everything, she had believed lost, had come to her; that Erick was in the midst of them at home like a near friend, and was to stay over the night, for the father had arranged that at once.
Edi sat over his history book and Ritz had a book of his own before him, but looked over it at Sally and listened to her explanation. Now Edi lifted his head–he must have come upon something very particular.
“Papa,” he said, “now I know for certain what I want to be: a sea-captain. Then I can sail around the world, for _sometime_ I must see all the lands where all these things have happened.”
“So, I thought you wanted to be a professor of history,” remarked the father, not much disturbed by this piece of news.
“I want to be that, too,” said Ritz, “I, too, want to sail in ships.”
“No, you see, Ritz, two brothers must not be the same thing, else they get in each other’s way,” instructed Edi.
“Then I will be a sea-robber, they too sail in ships,” Ritz comforted himself.
“We will not hope anything of the kind,” said the father behind his church paper.
“And do you remember, Ritz, what I once told you about Julius Caesar?” Edi reminded him. “If I were to catch you like that, then I should be obliged to have you killed.”
“No, I do not want that! But what can one be with ships?” Ritz asked plaintively, for if Edi expressed a thought, then it usually remained firmly in Ritz’s head.
“One can be also something very good without ships, my dear Ritz,” the mother said comfortingly, “and that is much safer; then one stays on firm land, and I should advise you to stay. And what does our Erick want to be? Has he too thought of that?”
“I must become an honorable man,” answered Erick at once.
“That is no calling,” instructed Edi.
But the father put down his book and said, nodding at the boy: “That is right, Erick, go toward that goal: first, and above all, an honorable man; after that, every calling is all right.”
Now the mother rose, for it was time to go to bed. Edi and Ritz took Erick between them and thus marched ahead of the mother to conduct him to his little room which was beside their bedroom, so that the door between could be left open, with the advantage that Erick also could be drawn into the nightly conversation. Both Edi and Ritz were delighted with that.
So the Organ-Sunday, which had begun so hostilely, ended quite peacefully.
A Secret that is Kept
When on the next morning the pastor’s family was at breakfast, the pastor arranged that Erick should not go with the other three to school, since he belonged to the school in Lower Wood and it was now too far to go there. When the other three had gone, then Erick should come to him in his study. So it was decided, and when Erick came into the study the pastor pointed to a seat and said: “Now sit down in front of me”–for he himself sat on the large sofa–“look into my eyes, and tell me everything from the beginning and exactly what happened yesterday before you came into church, also what you intended to do, for I have heard all kinds of things.”
Erick looked with his large, bright blue eyes straight into the pastor’s, and told everything from the beginning: how he was going to be auctioned and did not want to be, what Churi had promised him, how he then had gone with them, also how the others had brought large baskets to put grapes in, but he did not know where they were to get the grapes. The pastor, however, now knew everything, for Sally had reported how the Mayor was expecting his grape-thieves again and how he was going to receive them. It was now quite plain, as one had always suspected, that the same crowd, the Middle Lotters, under Churi’s lead, had plundered the vineyard.
“Erick,” said the pastor earnestly, “you want to be an honorable man and you mean it seriously so far as you understand the word, I have seen that; but that is not the way which will lead you there. See, you can understand, that you have made friends with a crowd of boys who are on no good road; for, to run about wild on Sunday, when the bells call to church, and to be obliged to hide behind barns from nice people,–you did not learn that from your mother, did you, Erick?”
Erick had to lower his open eyes and answered very low: “No.”
“But worse things turn up if one goes with bad boys,” the pastor continued. “Through them, one often comes where one never wanted to come. See, if you had not been saved from it through your mother’s song which you heard, you would have been caught with the others in the vineyard as a thief, and punished as such. Well, Erick, if your mother should have had to hear that!”
Erick had grown dark red in the face. He was silent for some time, visibly from fear and perplexity, then he asked timidly: “Can I no longer grow to be an honorable man?”
“Yes, indeed, Erick,” said the pastor now kindly, “that you can. You know now on what road one cannot go; think of that and keep yourself far from bad companions. And now I will tell you how you can become a man of honor. Do you remember how the verse in your mother’s song goes, which begins:
“‘Thy Zion scatters palms
And greening twigs for Thee,
But I in glorious psalms
Will lift my soul to Thee!'”
In an instant Erick continued:
“‘My heart be overflowing
In constant love and praise,
In service will be growing,
Will Thy dear name then grace.'”
“Erick, you must never forget these words. If you bring all your deeds before the dear God and look to it before Him, whether you ‘Will grace His dear name’ as well as you know, then you will become a genuinely honorable man. Will you think on it?”
“Yes, I will,” Erick promised gladly, as now he looked up again to the pastor freely and openly.
“Then,” the latter said after a while, “there is still something else, Erick. Have you known your father?”
“Do you know if he is still alive, where he is?”
“Mother told me father had gone to America, to make a large fortune for himself and for us; but he has not yet returned.”
“Do you know other relatives, sisters or brothers of your mother, or some close friends?”
“Don’t you know of anyone to whom one could turn, who would look after you?”
“No, no,” said Erick, quite anxiously.
But the pastor put his hand very kindly on Erick’s head and said: “You must not be afraid, my boy, all will come out all right. You may go now.”
Erick rose; he hesitated for a moment, then he asked somewhat falteringly: “Must I go now directly to be auctioned? I am afraid Marianne has gone by now.”
“No, no,” the pastor answered quickly, “you will not go there at all, not at all. Now you go down to Mamma, she will keep you for the present.”
Erick’s eyes shone for joy. He had thought up till now that he would be sent to the auction, away from the happy life in the parsonage, but now this threatening bugbear was done away with forever. When Erick entered the sitting-room he found old Marianne sitting there. They had sent word, the evening before, that Erick would not come back for the night, but Marianne could not have gone away without taking leave of him. With many tears she bade him good-bye, and Erick too felt sorry that good old Marianne was going away; but since he might stay in the parsonage, it was indeed a different thing for him than if he had had to remain behind alone.
The weeping Marianne had hardly left the door, when the stately Mayor came in and went with firm steps toward the pastor’s study. Early in the morning, when he was going into the vineyard, he had met the Justice of Peace, and heard from him all the happenings of yesterday, how Erick had spoiled the game for the grape-thieves, and how they, the would-be thieves, had run far beyond the next two villages before they even became aware that it was only their allies who were chasing them. Kaetheli had learned all that, and had reported it to her father. The Mayor was quite satisfied with the outcome of the affair, and since he looked on Erick as the saver of his grapes, he now came to the pastor to talk over what could be done for the poor orphan.
The gentlemen held a long consultation, for both were anxious to find the most suitable plan for the boy; but they could not come to an agreement. The Mayor proposed that since the little fellow did not appear to be very strong, it would be best to apprentice him to an easy trade. He thought it would be best to put him to board at the tailor’s, then he would grow into the trade without much trouble, and would have nice companions in the tailor’s own boys; they were suited to each other, for the tailor’s sons were also dressed as cleanly and carefully as he was. But the pastor had other thoughts; he had a good institute in his mind, where Erick could be cared for at once and later be educated for a teacher. This also suited the Mayor, and he took leave with the assurance that he would make Erick a nice little gift, for the little fellow had shown him a greater kindness than he could know, which the pastor verified.
When later the pastor told his wife of their transaction, she did not quite agree with it; she thought that she might keep the orphaned Erick for a while with her; in fact she should prefer to keep him altogether, for she had already taken this loving, trusting boy deep into her heart. But the pastor convinced her that the “keeping altogether” could not be done, since there were nearer obligations to all kinds of relatives, so that one could not give the little stranger preference in such a way. But he gladly granted the wish of his wife to keep Erick at least a few weeks in their home; for, he said, one could postpone his entrance into the institute until the beginning of the new year.
When the children were told of the decision there was great rejoicing, for Edi had put into Ritz’s head a large number of splendid undertakings, which could be carried out only by three people, and Sally knew of nothing in the whole world that could have given her greater joy than that now she could be with the new friend from day to day; for he was in every way what she could wish, and in many ways he was much nicer than she could have imagined from the manners of her former friends.
Erick had such a happy, refined, thoughtful disposition, that it seemed to Sally as if she lived in continuous sunshine when she was with him. The aunt also agreed with the decision to keep the boy in the parsonage, although at first she had seen in it a disturbance in the order of the household, since the increasing of the number would mean that in the evening it would take even longer to get to a settlement. But when she noticed that Erick, on the first hint, rose at once and did what was desired, then her fears turned to hopes that one might impress the others a little with this ever-ready boy, which impressed her very favorably. ‘Lizebeth alone continued her dislike of the new-comer, and whenever she met him in the house she measured him with her eyes from his head to as far as the velvet reached.
Erick soon felt quite at home in the parsonage. He now went with the three children to the same school, shared Edi’s historical interest as long as the latter entertained him with it, which was the case on every walk to school, and as often as possible besides, for Edi found large gaps in the historical knowledge of his new friend and felt himself called upon to fill them in. Erick was a good listener and often put questions which drove Edi to new, deep studies and which excited him so much that he had almost no other thoughts but Rome and Carthage.
With good-natured Ritz, Erick was also on good terms. The little fellow ran after him wherever he went, and looked delighted when he saw him from afar; then he rushed at him and was always sure of a pleasant reception and jocular conversation, for Erick was always friendly, talkative and in good humor, and never buried in history books which often made Edi unhappy. So Ritz spent all the time out of school either with Erick, or seeking him, which however sometimes cost him a good deal of time, for the very nearest friends, after all, were Erick and Sally. The two could not be separated. There was a great similarity in their temperaments, for what the one wanted the other liked also, and what the one did not like, did not please the other, and both liked nothing better than to go together up into the woods, where under the old fir-tree was the small bench on which they could sit and tell each other all they knew; or to go down to the foaming Woodbach and there, sitting on the stones near the bank, watch the tossing waves rush down. They never seemed to lack topics of conversation. Erick told about his mother, and how they had lived together, and of her beautiful singing; and Sally never grew weary of hearing again and again the same stories, and would keep on asking questions.
So they sat on their bench under the tree on the sunny Sunday afternoon in the first week in October, and Sally had just begun her questions. This time she wanted to know why the mother had sent Erick to Lower Wood to school and not to Upper Wood, where all good people from Middle Lot came–Kaetheli, for example. Then Erick told her that his mother had asked Marianne about the schools, and after Marianne had explained everything to her, and that fewer children went to Lower Wood and mostly children who were not so well-known, then his mother had at once decided that he should go there. “For you see, Sally, we were obliged to be alone and hide ourselves until I had become an honorable man.”
“But why? I do not understand it at all,” Sally said somewhat impatiently. “And then afterwards when you had become an honorable man, what did you want to do, if you did not know anyone?”
“I should very much like to tell it to you, Sally,” Erick answered very seriously, “but you would have to promise me that you would tell it to no human being; never, not if it should take many, many years.”
“Yes, yes, I will surely promise that,” Sally said quickly, for she was very anxious to hear the secret.
“No, Sally, you must consider it well,” said Erick, and held his hands behind his back, to let her have time, “then if you have decided that you will tell no human being one single word, then you must promise it to me with a firm handshake.”
Sally had fully decided. “Just give me your hand, Erick,” she urged. “So, I promise you that I will tell to no one a single word of that which you want to tell me.”
Now Erick felt safe. “You see, Sally,” he began, “in Denmark there is a very large, beautiful estate, with a beautiful lawn before the house to which one can go directly through large doors out of the halls, and in the middle of the lawn are the beautiful flower-beds just filled with roses; and on the other side of the house one goes across to the large, old oaks, where the horses graze–for there are many beautiful horses. And on the left side of the house one comes directly into the small forest; there is a pond quite surrounded by dense trees, and a small bench stands above and from there one descends three steps to the little boat that has two oars, and my mother liked best to sit there and row about the pond. For, you see, my mother lived there when she was a child, and also later when she was grown up. And there below, where the lawn stops, begin the large stables where the horses are when they are not grazing; and my mother had her own little white horse. She rode about on that with grandfather or with old John. Oh, that was so beautiful! But once Mother was disobedient to grandfather, for she wanted to go far away with my father, and grandfather would not have it; but she went, and then she was not allowed to come back, and everything was over.”
Sally had listened with breathless attention. Now she burst out: “Dear, dear, what a pity! That is exactly like Adam and Eve in Paradise! But where did your mother go to? And who is now on that beautiful estate?”
“Mother went far away to Paris, then to many other places, and at last we came to Middle Lot. My grandfather still lives on the estate.”
“Oh, Erick, we will write a letter at once to your grandfather and ask him whether you may now come home again?”
“Oh, no, no! I dare not do that,” opposed Erick. “I must not go to my grandfather until I have become an honorable man, so that I may say to him: ‘I will not bring shame on your name, Grandfather, but Mother would like to make up through me for what you have suffered through her!’ I have promised that to my mother!”
“Oh, what a pity, what a pity!” lamented Sally, “you may never go to the beautiful estate until you are a man; that will be a terrible long time. And then you have to go away in the winter to quite strange people, to an institute. Oh, if you only could go to the beautiful estate, to Grandfather! Can it not be brought about, Erick? Can no one help you?”
“No, that is quite impossible,” said Erick, thoroughly convinced. “But now, since you know all, I will tell you a good deal more about the estate, for I know much more, and Mother and I have talked so often about it,” so Erick told more and more until they reached home, where both of them were much distracted, for both were wandering in thought about the beautiful estate far away. The mother looked several times now at the one, then at the other, for nothing unusual in her children ever escaped her motherly eye; but she said nothing. When later she had prayed with the children, and was now standing in her own bedroom, she heard how Sally, in her little bedroom beside hers, was praying loud and earnestly to God.
The mother wondered what could so occupy the thoughts of her little girl, who was usually so open and communicative. What had happened this evening, and what was urging her to such a pleading prayer, and why had she not said a word about it? Could the child have a secret trouble? She softly opened the door a little, and now heard how Sally several times in succession fervently prayed: “Oh, dear God, please bring it about that Erick may come to his grandfather on the beautiful estate.”
Now the mother entered Sally’s room. “My dear child,” she said, “for what did you pray just now to the dear God? Will you explain it to me?”
But Sally made such an uproar that the mother stopped with surprise. “You did not hear it, Mother? I hope you have not understood it, Mother. Have you? You must not know it, Mother, no one must know it. It is a great secret.”
“But, dear child, do be quiet and listen to me,” said the mother kindly. “I heard that you prayed to the dear God for something for Erick. Perhaps we, too, could do something for him. Tell me what you know, for it may lead to something good for him.”
“No, no,” cried Sally in the greatest excitement, “I will say nothing, I have promised him, and I do not know anything else than for what I have prayed.” And Sally threw herself on her pillow and began to sob.
Now the mother ordered her to be quiet and let the thing rest. She would not ask her any more, nor speak of it. Sally should do as she felt, and surrender everything to the dear God. But the mother put two things together in her mind. When Marianne had come to take leave, she had questioned her about Erick’s mother and the latter’s condition; also whether Marianne knew her maiden name. But Marianne did not know much, only once she had seen a strange name, but had not been able to read it. It was when Erick, at one time, had taken the cover from his mother’s little Bible; then she saw a name written with golden letters. Erick must have the little Bible. The lady had seen the little black book in Erick’s box and had taken off the close-fitting cover and had found written in fine gold letters the name, “Hilda von Vestentrop”. She at once assumed that this must be the maiden name of Erick’s mother; but she knew nothing further.
Now she had learned through Sally’s prayer that Denmark had been her native land, and that a father was living there. All this she told to her husband the same evening, and proposed that he should write at once to this gentleman in Denmark.
The pastor leaned far back in his armchair and stared at his wife with astonishment. “Dear wife,” he said at last, “do you really believe that I could send a letter addressed ‘von Vestentrop, Denmark’? This address is no doubt enough for the dear God, but not for short-sighted human beings.”
But the wife did not give in. She reminded her husband that he knew their countryman, the pastor of the French church in Copenhagen, and that he perhaps could help him onto the track of von Vestentrop; the latter must be the owner of an estate and such a gentleman could be found. And the wife spoke so long and so impressively to her husband that he finally sat down that very evening and wrote two letters. The one he addressed “To Mr. von Vestentrop in Denmark”. This one he enclosed in the second and addressed that to his acquaintance, the pastor of the French church in Copenhagen. Then he laid the heavy letter on his writing-table so that early to-morrow morning ‘Lizebeth would find it and carry it to the post office.
Surprising Things Happen
Weeks had passed by since Erick had become an inhabitant of the parsonage, but ‘Lizebeth had not changed her mind. Just now she was standing in the kitchen-door, when Erick came running up the steps, and hastily asked: “Where are Ritz and Edi?”
‘Lizebeth measured him with a long look and said: “I should have thought that a boy in velvet would utter the names in a strange house more politely, and that he might say, ‘Where are Eduardi and Moritzli?'”
Much frightened, Erick looked up to ‘Lizebeth. “I did not know that I ought to talk so in the parsonage; I have never done it and I am sorry for it; now I will always remember to say it,” he promised assuringly.
Now that did not suit ‘Lizebeth. She had believed that he would answer, “That is none of your business.” For that remark she had prepared a fitting answer. And now he answered her so nicely that she was caught, but if he really was going to carry out his promise, then the lady of the house might find out how she had schoolmastered him and that might draw upon her some unpleasantness, for she knew how tenderly the former treated the boy Erick. She therefore changed her tactics and said: “Well, you see, I always say the names in the proper way; it is different with you, you are their comrade, and as far as I am concerned, you can call them as you like.”
“I should like to ask something else, if I may,” said Erick, and politely waited for permission.
‘Lizebeth liked this mannerly way very well and said encouragingly: “Yes, indeed, ask on, as much as you like.”
“I wanted to ask whether I may say ”Lizebeth’ like the others, or whether I ought to say ‘Mistress ‘Lizebeth’.”
Now Erick had won over ‘Lizebeth’s whole heart for the reason that he wanted to know what title she ought to have by rights, and that showed her what a fine boy he was. She patted his shoulder protectingly, and his curly hair, and said: “You just call me ”Lizebeth’, and if you want to ask anything, then come into the kitchen, and I will tell you everything you want to know and–wait a moment!” With these words she turned round and chased about the kitchen, then she came to him with two splendid, bright red apples in her hand.
“Oh, what beautiful apples! Thank you ever so much, ‘Lizebeth!” he cried delightedly, and now ran out.
‘Lizebeth looked after him with such pride as if she were his grandmother, and said to herself: “Let anyone come now and show me three finer little boys in the whole world than our three are.” With this challenge, and the proud consciousness that no one could accept it, she turned to her pans and kettles.
So Erick had won over everyone, but there was still one who looked at him from the corner of his eyes and always with a look of wrath, for a few days after Organ-Sunday, the Mayor had ordered that Churi should appear before him, and the bold Churi could hardly keep on his feet when he had to appear before the judicial tribunal, for he expected to receive the well-earned punishment from the strong hand of the Mayor. But the latter only pinched his ear a little and said: “Churi, Churi! this time you get off better than you deserve, for I know now who got the grapes last year, and I also know who wanted to get them again a few days ago. If from now on, even one single little bunch is missing, I shall hold you responsible, and you will be surprised at what will happen to you, think of that! Now go.”
Churi did not need to be told that twice; he was gone as if his life was at stake; but from that time on he thought of revenge on Erick, and when he met him, he shook his fist at him and said: “You wait! I will get you sometime.” But so far he had never met Erick alone, and had never been able to do him the slightest harm. This secretly embittered Churi still more.
Now winter had set in. Upper Wood lay deeply buried in snow, and everyone was busy thinking of Christmas and New Year. In these days the pastor gave a gentle hint to his wife, that the time for Erick’s change to the institute, for which the Mayor also had offered his help, was fast approaching. But the lady hardly let him finish his sentence for excitement, and answered at once: “How can you even think of such a thing! In the first place; we must wait for the answer from Denmark, before we do anything; and secondly, the whole Christmas joy would be spoiled completely for the children, through such news; thirdly, we ourselves, you and I, could not separate ourselves so suddenly and unprepared from a child who is as dear to us as one of our own–“
“Fourthly, ‘Lizebeth will give notice at once,” continued the pastor, “for she now is the worst of all, from all that I see. One thing is sure, dear wife, if the little fellow was not so guileless and had not such an exceptionally good disposition, you women would have ruined him so that he never could get straightened again, for you, one and all, spoil him quite terribly.”
“It is just this harmless and exceptionally well-disposed character of the child which wins all hearts, so that one cannot help treating him with peculiar love. No talk of sending Erick away before Easter can be considered, and much can happen before then, my dear husband.”
“Oh, yes,” the latter agreed, “only do not look for an answer from Denmark, for it would be in vain. The guilelessness in that address went a little too far.”
But the pastor’s wife was contented that another respite had been granted, and she hoped on.
The winter passed, Easter was approaching, but no answer came. This time the pastor’s wife got ahead of her husband. When shortly before Easter a belated April frost set in, she explained to him that new winter wraps had to be made for all the children, and before one could think of sending Erick away, summer clothing had to be prepared for him; his good velvet suit looked, indeed, still very fine, and would last some time yet, but her husband knew it was his only suit, and for mid-summer another must absolutely be procured for him, and for that, time and leisure were needed.
The pastor gave his consent to the postponement without opposition. In his heart he was heartily glad for the good excuse; for he, like all the rest, had learned to love Erick so much that the thought of his departure was very painful to him.
His wife was contented again and thought in her heart: “Who knows what may happen before summer.”
But something did happen which seemed to destroy with one blow all her hopes. The warm June had come and on the sunny hillsides around Upper Wood the strawberries, which grew there in plenty, were beginning to give out most delightful fragrance, and to turn red. That was a glorious time for all children round about. The children of the parsonage, too, undertook daily strawberry-expeditions and every evening belated they returned home. The order-devoted aunt, who, after a winter’s absence, had returned with the summer to the parsonage, did not leave any remedy untried to restore at least the usual condition of things.
Below near the Woodbach the berries grew largest and most plentifully. But to go there they had to wait till Saturday afternoon, when they had no school, for it was too far to take the walk after afternoon school. When Saturday came and the sun was shining brightly in the sky, then the whole company in joyous mood left the parsonage, Sally and Erick ahead, Ritz and Edi following. All were armed with baskets, for to-day, so they had decided, Mother was to receive a great quantity of strawberries instead of their eating all on the spot as usually happened. Having arrived on the hillside over the Woodbach, the best spots were sought; if one was found which was plentifully sprinkled over with strawberries, then the whole company was called together and the place cleared, and afterwards each went out again for new discoveries.
Erick was a good climber; without any trouble he swung himself down over the steepest hillsides, and jumped up the high rocks like a squirrel. Sally saw him, how he swung himself down a rock where he had espied on the lowest end a spot that shone bright red in the sun, as if covered with rubies. Were they berries or flowers which were growing there so beautifully? Erick must see them nearer. Sally shouted after him: “Call us if you find something, but be careful, it is steep there.”
[Illustration: _Churi….unexpectedly gave him such a severe push that Erick rolled down the rest of the mountain side…._]
Erick answered with a yodel and disappeared. Having arrived below, he met the Middle Lotters, who were bending in groups here and there, or lying on the ground, eating the berries which they picked. Erick could not find the red spot which he had seen from above; but not far away from him stood Churi, who had seen him coming down. Churi called to him:
“Come here, velvet pants, here are berries such as you have never seen.”
Erick went quite calmly to him and when he now had stepped quite close to Churi, the latter unexpectedly gave him such a severe push that Erick rolled down the rest of the mountain side and right into the gray waves of the Woodbach.
When Churi saw that, he was frightened. For a moment he stared at the gray waves; but Erick had disappeared, not a speck of him could be seen. Then Churi softly turned round and ran away as quickly as he could, without looking round, for his conscience bit him and drove him along, and he dared not look anyone in the face for fear that someone could read there what he had done. The other Middle Lotters had not paid attention to what was going on. Perhaps once in a while one of the crowd would ask, “What has become of Churi all of a sudden?” and another would answer, “He can go, wherever he likes,” and they would turn again to their berries and think no more of him.
Meanwhile Sally had remained standing in the same spot and had waited for Erick’s call. When it did not come, she began to call, but received no answer. She now called to Edi, and he came running with Ritz, and all three called together for Erick, but in vain. The sun had long since set, and it was beginning to grow dark. All children, even the Middle Lotters, went past them on their homeward way, and they were always the very last. “Show me once more, and be quite sure, the very spot where he began to climb down,” said Edi, “I will go down, in the same path.”
Sally showed the exact spot, where Erick had descended over the rock, and Edi began the descent a little timidly. But he arrived safely down below and ran hither and thither, calling with a loud voice: “Erick! Erick!” But only the echo from the rocks, round about, answered mockingly: “‘Rick! ‘Rick!”
Now it really began to be dark, and round about not a human sound, only the rushing of the Woodbach, sounded through the stillness. Edi began to feel a little uncomfortable; he climbed as quickly as possible up the rock and said hastily: “Come, we will go home. Perhaps Erick is already at home, he may have gone by another road.”
But Sally opposed this proposition with all her power, and assured him firmly that Erick had not gone home; that he would have first come back to her; and she was not going a step away from where he had left her, until Erick came, for if he were to come and she was not there, then he would wait for her again, if he had to wait the whole night, she was sure of that.
“We must go home, you know it,” declared Edi. “Come, Sally, you know we must.”
“I cannot, I cannot!” lamented Sally. “You go with Ritz and tell them at home how it is; perhaps Erick cannot find the road again.” At this conjecture which, only now after she had uttered it, Sally saw plainly, she began to weep and sob piteously, while Edi took Ritz by the hand and ran toward home as quickly as possible.
Mother and Aunt were standing before the parsonage, looking in all directions to see if the children would not make their appearance somewhere. ‘Lizebeth ran to and fro, hither and thither, and asked of the returning children of the neighborhood, where the parsonage children were. She received the same answer from all: the three were still below by the Woodbach, and were waiting for Erick, who had gone alone. At last Ritz and Edi came running through the darkness. Both panted in confusion, one interrupting the other. They shouted: “Sally sits–“–“Erick is over”–“Yes, Erick is over”–“But Sally still sits and”–
“Sally sits and Erick is over!” cried the aunt. “Now let anyone make sense of that!” But the mother drew Edi aside and said; “Come, tell me quietly what has happened.”
Then Edi told everything, how Erick had climbed over the rock and how Sally now was sitting alone below near the Woodbach, and Erick gave no answer to all his calling.
“For heaven’s sake,” the mother cried, now thoroughly frightened, “I hope that nothing has happened to Erick! Or could he have lost his way?” She ran into the house to ask her husband what was to be done. At once ‘Lizebeth ran to seven or eight neighbors and brought them together with a good deal of noise, all armed with staves and lanterns, as ‘Lizebeth had ordered. Also several women hastened up, they too wanted to help in the seeking. Now the pastor had come out and joined them, for he himself wanted to do everything to find Erick, and at any rate to bring Sally home. ‘Lizebeth came last in the procession, with a large basket hanging from her arm, for without a basket, ‘Lizebeth could not leave the house.
Two long hours went by, while the mother walked ceaselessly to and fro, now to the window, then to the house door, now up and down the sitting-room; for the longer no news came the greater grew her fear. At last the house-door was opened and in came the father, holding the weeping Sally by the hand, for he had not been able to comfort her. They had at that time not been able to get a trace of Erick; but the neighbors were still seeking for him and had promised not to stop seeking until he was found. ‘Lizebeth was still with them, and she was the most energetic of all the seekers.
Only after many comforting words from the mother, and after she had prayed with her whole heart with the child to the dear God, that He would protect the lost Erick and bring him home again, could Sally at last be quieted. She fell then into a deep sleep, and slept so soundly that she did not wake until late the next morning, and the mother was glad to know that her daughter was sleeping, as her grief would be awakened again, when she woke up.
Sunday morning passed quietly and sadly in the parsonage. Father and Mother came out of church, before which the people of Upper Wood and Lower Wood, from Middle Lot, and the whole neighborhood round about, had assembled to talk over the calamity.
So far Ritz and Edi had kept very quiet, each busy with his own occupation. Edi, a large book on his knees, was reading. Ritz was very busy with breaking off the guns from all his tin soldiers, as now, having peace in the land, they did not need them.
“So,” Edi, who had looked now and then over his book, said quite seriously: “if war breaks out again, then the whole company can stay at home, for they have no more guns; with what are they supposed to fight?”
Ritz had not thought of that. Quickly he threw all the gunless soldiers into the box and said: “I do not care to play any more today,” no doubt with the unexpressed hope that the guns, by the time he should open the box again, might be somehow mended. But now he became restless and asked to go out, and Edi, who had seen the large gathering by the church, also decided to go out doors, for he too wanted to hear what was going on.
The aunt opposed their going out for some time, but finally gave her consent for half an hour, to which the mother, who had just come in, agreed. Now Sally appeared and rushed at once to her mother, to hear about Erick, whether he had come home and how, where and when, or whether news had come. But before the mother had time to tell her child gently that no news had come from Erick, but that more people had gone out, early in the morning, to seek him, the two brothers came rushing in with unusual bluster and shouted in confusion:
“There comes a large, large”–“A very tall gentleman”–“A gentleman who walks very straight out of a coach with two horses.”
“I believe it is a general,” Edi brought out finally and very importantly.
“No doubt,” laughed the aunt. “Next you will see nothing but old Carthaginians walking about Upper Wood and the whole neighborhood.”
But the mother did not laugh. “Could it not be someone who might bring news of Erick?” she asked. She ran to the window. At the entrance of the house was an open traveling coach, to which were harnessed two bay horses which pawed the ground impatiently, and shook their heads so that the bright harness rattled loudly. Ritz and Edi disappeared again. These sounds were irresistible to them.
Now ‘Lizebeth rushed in. “There is a strange gentleman below with the master,” she reported. “I have directed him to the pastor’s study, so that the table can be set here, for I must go out again to the little boy. The gentleman has snow-white hair but he has a fresh, ruddy face and walks straight like an army man or a commander.”
“And he came alone?” asked the mistress. “Then he does not bring Erick? Who may he be?”
Meanwhile the tall, strange gentleman had entered the pastor’s study below, with the words: “Colonel von Vestentrop, of Denmark. The gentleman will excuse me if I interrupt him.”
The pastor was so surprised that for a moment he could not collect his wits. Erick’s grandfather! There stood the man bodily before him, whose existence had been to him a mere fairy tale, and the man looked so stately and so commanding, that everyone who beheld him must be inspired with respect. But at the same time there was something winning in his expression, which was familiar to the reverend gentleman from Erick’s dear face. And this gentleman had traveled so far to fetch his grandson, and Erick had disappeared.
All this passed through the pastor’s head with lightning speed; he stood for a moment like one paralyzed. But the colonel did not give much time to the surprised man to recover himself. He quickly took the offered easy chair, drew the pastor down on another, looked straight into his eyes and said: “Dear Sir, you sent through the French pastor in Copenhagen a letter addressed to me, in which you inform me of things of which I do not believe one single word.”
The surprise of the pastor increased and was reflected in his face.
“Please understand me rightly, dear Sir,” the speaker continued, “not that I mean that you would make an incorrect statement; but you yourself have been duped, your kindness has been shamefully misused. Because I knew that, I did not wish to answer your letter in writing, for we would have exchanged many letters uselessly and yet would never have come to an understanding. Behind all this is a clever fellow, who wants to trick you and me for the sake of gain. So I have let everything rest until I could combine the present explanation with a journey to Switzerland. So here I am, and I will tell you, in as few words as possible, the unfortunate story which led to this deception. But let me look at once at the object in question. I want to see what the boy is like, whom the man dares to place before my eyes as my grandson.”
The pastor had now to tell of the unfortunate accident of Erick’s disappearance, how they had searched so far in vain, but how everything was being done to find the dear boy; therefore he might make his appearance at any moment.
The colonel only smiled a little, but that smile was a little sarcastic and he said: “My good Sir, let us stop the seeking. The boy will not return. The fellow who has placed him in your hands has calculated wrongly this time. He, no doubt, hoped that I, at such a distance, would credulously accept everything that he wanted, and would do what he wished. Now he has found out that I myself was on the way to see you; and to bring before my eyes some foundling as my daughter’s child, that he did not dare to do. On that account the child has disappeared, Reverend Sir; that man knows me.”
However much the pastor might assure the colonel that no one had interfered in the case, that the boy, after his mother’s death, without anyone’s intercession had come into the parsonage, and that from the boy himself, without himself knowing it, had come the suggestions about the country and the name of the grandfather,–all explanation of the pastor did no good, the sturdy gentleman adhered to his firm opinion that the whole thing was the invented trick of a man who wished to make money, and that the disappearance of the boy at the necessary moment confirmed it.
“But how should, how could the man of whom you speak–“
The colonel did not listen to the end of the sentence. “You do not know this man,” he threw in, “you do not know his knavery, Sir! I had a daughter, an only child; I had lost my wife soon after marriage; the child was all in all to me. She was the sunshine of my house, beautiful as few, always joyous, amiable to everyone and full of talents. She had a voice which delighted everyone; it was my joy. I had her instructed in the house, also in music. Then, a young teacher came and settled in the town, near which my estate lies. People talked much about the young musician, and of his artistic skill. He was engaged to teach on all our neighboring estates. I did the same. I had him come to my house every day and had no suspicion of misfortune. After a few months, my daughter, who was hardly eighteen years old, told me that she wanted to marry that man. I answered her that that never would happen; she should never again speak of such a thing. She did not say another word, nor did she complain–that was not her way. I thought all was past and settled, but found it safer to stop the lessons, and I dismissed the instructor. The same evening my daughter asked me, whether I could ever in my life change my opinion. ‘Never in my life,’ I said, ‘that is as sure as my military honor’. The next morning, she had disappeared. A letter left for me told me that she was going away with that man and would become his wife. From that time on,–it is now twelve years ago,–I have never heard anything from my child, till your letter came.
“That my daughter is dead, I can well believe, but that she has left a helpless little boy, that I do not believe, for she would have sent such a boy, of whom she had a right to dispose, to me; she knows me, she would have known that I would give him my name, and the remembrance would be wiped away. But this boy, who has disappeared again at the right time, has been substituted by the music-teacher, who no doubt lives somewhere in this neighborhood, and has done it for the purpose of receiving a sum of money from me. And now, dear Sir, we are through. The only thing left for me is to express my regret that, your kindness has been misused through my name; good-bye.”
With these words the colonel rose and offered his hand to the pastor. The latter held it firmly, saying: “Only one more word, Colonel! Consider one thing: you know your daughter’s character. After she had done you the great wrong, she might have decided not to send the boy to you before he in some way could make good the mother’s wrongdoing–perhaps not until the time when he would do honor to your name, when he should prove to you through his own character that he was worthy of your name.”
“You are a splendid man, who means well with me; but you have not had the experience I have had. You know no distrust, I can see that, and that is why you have been imposed upon. Let us part.”
Saying this the colonel again shook the pastor’s hand and opened the door. There the lady of the house met him, who for some time with impatience had been walking up and down in the garden, for she was sure that this caller, who stayed so long, was somehow connected with the lost Erick, and she could not understand why her husband did not call her. Sally, from the same expectation and greater impatience, followed her every step. When now the mother had seen from the garden, that the strange gentleman had risen, she could bear it no longer; she must know what was going on. When she stepped on the threshold at the moment when the stranger opened the door, then politeness demanded that the parson introduce his wife, and the stranger from politeness was obliged to step back into the room when the master of the house introduced his wife to him with the words: “Colonel von Vestentrop from Denmark. You indeed will be delighted to hear this name.”
The lady stepped toward the colonel with visible delight and said excitedly: “Is it possible? But at what a moment! But you will stay with us, Colonel, for your dear grandchild must be found. The sweet boy cannot be lost, he must have lost his way.”
“Pardon me, my gracious lady,” the colonel here interrupted her politely, but somewhat stiffly, “I shall start at once. You are under a delusion; I have no grandchild, and I must bid you good-bye.”
At mention of the name “Vestentrop”, Sally had grown very red; and she trembled all over, during the conversation that followed. Now she restrained herself no longer. Tears poured from her eyes, and with the greatest agitation she sobbed: “Indeed, indeed, he is, I know it, he has told me himself; but I dared not tell it to anyone.”
“Well, the boy has found at least one good friend and defender,” said the colonel well-pleased, and wanted to pat Sally’s cheeks, but she withdrew quickly, for she first wanted to know whether the gentleman would believe and recognize Erick, before she would let him touch her.
The mother too was struck to the core by this incredulity. Her husband had whispered a few words to her, so she understood at once the whole situation.
“Colonel,” she now said, placing herself before him, “do not act in such haste. Let me prevail on you to stay a few days, yes, even this one day! The dear child must, and will be found, please God! See him first. Learn to know the treasure which you are about to give up so lightly. If you could know what sunshine you want to withhold from your house, you could never be happy again. Do not think, sir, that I would give the child away; how shall I, how shall we all be able to bear it, when the dear, sunny face shall have disappeared forever from among our children.” The tears came into the mother’s eyes also, and she could say no more.
“Well, I have to declare that the little wanderer has fallen into good hands,” said the colonel, giving his hand to the pastor’s wife in an approving way. “You will allow me now to depart.”
This time the gentleman was determined to go. He went out and walked along the long corridor with head lifted proudly, followed by the pastor, who tried in vain to overtake him so that he could open the door for his guest. But before the door could be opened from within, it was pushed open with great force from outside, and like an arrow the slender Edi shot straight into the tall colonel, who had been standing directly behind the closed door; and at once after Edi, Ritz rushed into Edi, and the tall gentleman received the second push, and in his ears rang confused screamings of mixed words: “They are coming–they come–Marianne–Erick–Marianne–they come–they come.” And really! In the house door appeared Marianne, quite broad in her Sunday best, holding Erick, of whom she kept a firm grasp, as if he might fall from there down again into the Woodbach. Behind both the partaking scholars of the parishes pressed in with shouts of rejoicing.
There was no possibility for the military gentleman to get out; the crowd pressed into the house with great force. He gave in and did what he had never done before in his life–he retreated, step by step, until he had arrived, backwards, over the threshold of the study, together with the whole of the pastor’s family, old and young; and at last the fighting Sally pressed in. She had taken Erick by the hand and did not want to let go of him, and on the other side Marianne held his hand as in a clamp, and she herself was held back from all sides, for the schoolfellows wanted to know first the story of how Erick was lost and found again.
It was an indescribable uproar. Only after the efforts of Sally had succeeded in pulling Erick and Marianne out of the human ball and into the study, was there sufficient calm so that one could understand the other, for the school friends had stayed respectfully before the door; they did not dare to press into the study-room of their pastor.
Now only could the information be understood, which Erick and Marianne–each relieving the other–gave about the whole occurrence. Erick told how he, after a strong push, had fallen into the water and then had known nothing more, and had wakened again when somebody was rubbing him firmly. That had been Marianne, who now related further. She had gone yesterday afternoon from Oakwood, where she was living now, upward along the Woodbach, to the place where the berries grew the most plentifully, as she knew these many years that she had sought and sold them in the taverns of Upper and Lower Wood. As she was seeking for berries close by the water, bending down behind the willow bush, she saw how the bush was being shaken and how something had remained hanging to it. She bent around the bush to find out what it might be, and saw the black velvet jacket on the water! “Oh, dear God!” she then cried out with unutterable horror, and never stopped crying until, under her desperate rubbing with skirt and apron, Erick opened his eyes and looked with surprise at Marianne. Now she quickly took the large market-basket in which she intended to put the many small baskets, when they were filled; threw the latter all in a heap, put the dripping Erick in it, and carried him, as quickly as she could, toward her small cottage, far beyond Oakwood, in which she lived together with her cousin. Here she at once undressed the wet boy, wound him closely in a large blanket so that nothing was to be seen of him besides a tuft of yellow, curly hair, put him in bed with the heavy cover far above his head, for, “getting him warm is the principal thing for the little boy,” she kept on saying to herself. Then she went into her kitchen and soon came back with a cup of steaming hot milk, lifted Erick’s head from under the covers, so that his mouth became free, and poured the hot milk in it to make the little fellow warm. When she now had packed him in the blanket again, and the fright at finding the unconscious Erick and the fear of his taking cold had passed a little, then it came into her mind that the people of the parsonage did not know what had become of him, and that they too would be anxious about him. She went again to the bed and tried to bring the deeply hidden Erick up again. But Erick was already half asleep, and when Marianne told him her thoughts, he said comfortingly: “No, no, they will know that I will come back again, and if they are anxious, then ‘Lizebeth will come and look for me.”
Of that Marianne was sure: ‘Lizebeth would come and take him home. No doubt Erick had started to come and see Marianne, his friend in Oakwood, and on his way there had fallen into the Woodbach by accident, Marianne thought, for in her anxiety for his welfare, she had not spoken a word with Erick about the accident. Now he was fast asleep.
Marianne sat down beside him and lifted the cover now and then to listen whether he was breathing properly. After she had sat thus a while and noticed how the little fellow’s cheeks began to glow like the reddest strawberries, then she feared no longer that he would catch cold, and she also felt sure that ‘Lizebeth would not come and thought that the people in the parsonage would assume that he was going to spend the night at the cottage. So Marianne had peacefully locked her cottage and gone to sleep.
The next morning Marianne first had to brush and press the velvet suit, for she would not bring the boy back to the parsonage in disorder; she would not have done that for the sake of his blessed mother. Then she too must dress in her Sunday best, and so the morning had almost passed before they both had started on their way, quite contented and without any suspicion of the enormous fear and excitement which had been in the parsonage and had spread over the whole of Upper Wood. At the church they had been greeted by the assembled crowd with great noise and much confused talking, and then they were accompanied to the parsonage by the schoolmates, who were crazed with joy at seeing Erick.
In the general excitement and joy, the colonel had been quite forgotten. He had sat down unnoticed on a chair, and had listened attentively to the reports, following with his eyes the lively gestures which the excited Erick was making in the zeal of telling his story. Now the reports were finished and for the first time Erick’s eyes beheld the stranger in the crowd. The latter beckoned him to come to him; Erick obeyed at once.
“Come here, my boy, hither,” and the colonel placed him right before him. “So, just look straight in my eyes. What is your name?”
Erick with his bright eyes looked directly into those of the strange gentleman, and without hesitation he said: “Erick Dorn.”
The gentleman looked at him still more directly. “After whom were you called, boy, do you know?”
Erick hesitated a moment with the answer, but he did not divert his glance. It seemed as if the eyes of the stranger attracted and conquered him. “After my grandfather,” he now said with a clear voice.
“My boy–your mother used to look at me just so,–I am your grandfather–” and now big tears ran down the austere gentleman’s cheeks. Erick must have been seized by the attraction of kinship, for without the least shyness, he threw both arms around the old gentleman’s neck and rejoicingly exclaimed: “Oh, Grandfather, is it really you? I know you well! And I have so much to tell you from Mother, so much.”
[Illustration: _He threw both arms around the old gentleman’s neck and rejoicingly exclaimed: “Oh, Grandfather, is it really you?”…_]
“Have you? Have you, my boy?” But the grandfather could say no more.
When Erick noticed that his grandfather kept on wiping away the tears, then sad thoughts gained the upper hand in him and all at once the rejoicing expression disappeared, and he said quite sadly: “Oh, Grandfather, I was not to come to you now, and not for a long time. Only when I had become an honorable man, was I to step before you and say to you: ‘My mother sends me to you, that you may be proud of me, and that I may make good the sorrow, which my mother has caused you.'”
The grandfather put his arms lovingly around Erick and said: “Now everything is all right. It is enough that your mother has sent you to me. She meant it well with the ‘honorable man’, in this I recognize my child; and you do not disobey her, my boy, for you see, you did not come to me, but I came to you. And an honorable man you will also become with me.”
“Yes, that I will, and I know too, how one becomes one, for the reverend pastor has told me how.”
“That is lovely of him, we will thank him for it. And now we start, this very day, on our journey to Denmark.”
“To Denmark, Grandfather, to the beautiful estate, right now?” Erick’s eyes grew larger and larger with astonishment and expectation, for he only now comprehended, what he was going to meet: all that had stood before his mental eyes as the highest and most splendid, ever since he could think, and that his mother had painted for him in the bright coloring of her childhood’s remembrances, again and again, the distant, beautiful estate, the handsome horses, the pond with the barge, the large house with the winter-garden,–everything he was now to see, and live there with this grandfather, for whom his mother had planted such a love and reverence in her boy’s heart, that he saw in him the highest of what could be found on this earth,–all this over-powered Erick so much that he was not able to comprehend his good fortune, and with a deep breath he asked: “Are you sure, Grandfather?”
“Yes, yes, my boy,” the grandfather assured him, laughing. “Come, I hope you can start at once. You will not have much to pack?”
“Oh, no,” said Erick. “You see,”–and he counted on his fingers: “three writing-books, three school-books, the pen-box and the beautiful Christmas present that I received here in the parsonage.”
“That is well, that will make a small bundle,” but the old gentleman looked at his grandson, rather surprised, and said: “I am astonished, little waif, that you look so fine.”
“Yes, I believe you, Grandfather,” answered Erick. “That is good stuff that I am wearing; it comes from you. You see, when in the old suit which I had worn so long, the patches became holes, then Mother brought out the beautiful velvet cloak, with the broad lace, and said: ‘That is good, that comes from Grandfather, you can wear that a long time.’ And then she cut everything apart and sewed everything together again, and so there came out what I am now wearing. And Mother received a great deal of money for the broad lace. But only when all was finished and I was wearing it, she became glad again; during the cutting and the sewing together, she was very quiet.”
The grandfather too had become still, and he turned away for a while. No doubt he too thought of the time and what happy days they were when he had hung around his beloved child the rich mantle, and how sweetly she stood before him, she whom he was never to see again.
“Come, my boy,” he said, turning again to Erick. “What has become of your foster-parents? It is time that we thank them.”
The pastor’s wife had seen at once that the grandfather had recognized his grandson, and as the latter was standing before him, she gently urged her husband and children, as well as Marianne, out of the room and closed the door after her; and outside, in the long passage, she let the interested crowd ask their loud questions, and give their loudest answers, undisturbed. But when the colonel, holding Erick by the hand, came out of the study, she at once made an open path for them through the assembled people, to bring them upstairs to the quiet reception room, where at last the family and their guest could be among themselves. Here the beaming grandfather went first to the lady of the house, and then to the master and then again to the lady, and every time he took each by both their hands with indescribable heartiness and kept on saying: “I have no words, but thanks, eternal thanks!” And all at once he saw Sally’s head peeping out from behind her mother. He suddenly took it between his two hands and cried: “There is, I believe, the great friend and defender of my boy. Well, now will you forgive me?”
Sally pulled one of his hands down and pressed a hearty kiss on it, and now the colonel tenderly stroked her hair and said: “Such good friends are worth a great deal!”
But when he expressed his intention to start at once with Erick, there arose great opposition, and this time the mother distinguished herself in opposition against such quick separation. The grandfather of her Erick ought to spend at least one night beneath her roof, and give the family the chance of learning to know him a little better and to have Erick another day in their midst.
All the children as well as Erick supported, louder and always louder, the mother’s request, and the beleaguered grandfather had to give in. Ritz and Edi ran with much delight and noise down the stairs to seat themselves proudly in the coach, and thus drive to the inn, where both must tell to the guests present, who had changed their consultation place from the church to the inn, what they knew of the strange gentleman. And so it came about that on the same Sunday afternoon, all Upper and Lower Wooders, as well as the Middle Lotters, knew Erick’s family and fate, and they had to talk loud and zealously before every door, over this change of luck that had come to Erick.
In the parsonage, too, the evening was spent with unusually animated conversation. How much had to be told to the grandfather of the happenings of the last and all former days, and Erick had to throw in a question now and then, which referred to the distant estate, for his thoughts always travelled back to that spot.
“Is Mother’s white pony still alive, Grandfather?” he once suddenly asked.
The beautiful pony had long been put away, was the answer. “But you shall have one just like your mother’s, my boy. I can now bear the sight of it again,” the grandfather said.
“Does old John still live, who made the barge and scraped the pebble-walks so nicely?” Erick asked another time.
“What, you know of that too? Yes, indeed, he is still living, but the joy of seeing my daughter’s son whom I am bringing home will almost kill him,” said the colonel, smiling contentedly at the prospect.
When Sally and Erick told of their first meeting and Sally’s call in Marianne’s cottage, and now it came out that it was the same Marianne who had pulled Erick out of the water, and who had stuck so faithfully to his mother, the colonel suddenly jumped up and demanded that Erick should go with him at once to Marianne for, from pure joy, they both had not thanked her as they ought to. But the lady had foreseen such a request, and had not let Marianne go home. And so she was called into the room and the colonel quickly took a chair and placed it in front of him. Marianne had to sit down there and tell everything that she knew of his daughter, and what she herself had heard and seen. Marianne was very glad to do that, and she spoke with such love and reverence of the dear one, that at the end of her story, the colonel took her hand and shook it heartily, but he could not speak. He rose and walked a few times up and down the room, then he beckoned to Erick, took out of his wallet two papers and said: “Give this to the good old woman, my boy; she shall have a few good days, she deserves it.”
Erick had never before enjoyed the happiness of giving; never had he been able to give anything to anyone, for he himself had never owned anything. An enormous joy rose up in his heart and with bright eyes he stepped to Marianne and said: “Marianne, here is something for you, for which you can buy whatever you like.”
But when Marianne saw that on the paper was a number and several zeros after it, she struck her hands together from astonishment and fright, and cried: “Dear God, I have not earned that, this is riches!” And when she still kept her hands away from the money, Erick stuck the papers deep into her pocket and said:
“Do you remember, Marianne, how you have said that you were growing old and could no longer work as you used to, and therefore you had to give up the little house and go to your old cousin? Now you can have your cottage again, with that money, and live in it happily.”
“That I can, that I can,” cried Marianne, forgetting in her joy that she did not want to take the large present. Tears of joy ran down her cheeks, and from happiness and emotion she could not utter a word of thanks, but kept on pressing the colonel’s hand and then Erick’s, and all were glad with Marianne that she could move again into the cottage and keep it for always. When at last they must separate for the night, the colonel pressed the house-mother’s hand once more and said: “My dear friend, you will understand with what gratitude my heart is full, when I tell you that this is the first happy evening which I have had for the last twelve years.”
Parting had to come the next morning. The mother took Erick in her arms and after she pressed him to her heart, she said: “My dear Erick, never forget your mother’s song! It has already brought you once from the wrong road into the right one; it will guide you well as long as you live. Keep it in your heart, my Erick.”
When Erick noticed tears in the mother’s eyes, then his grew wet, and when Sally noticed that, she put both hands to her face and began to sob. Then Erick ran to his grandfather and pleadingly cried: “Oh, Grandfather, can we not take Sally along? Don’t you think we could?”
The grandfather smiled and answered: “I could not wish anything I should like better, my boy, but we cannot rob the parsonage of all its children, all at once. But come, perhaps we can make some arrangement. What does the mother think about it, if we were to take our little friend next summer and bring her back for the winter, and do so every year?”
“Yes, yes,” shouted Erick, “every, every year as long as we live! Will you give me your word on it, Grandfather, now, right away?”
“To give you my word on it that it shall be so long as we live, that is asking much, my boy,” said the grandfather smiling. “If now you, both of you, should wish, all at once, to have things different–what then?”
“Oh, no, we are not so stupid,” said Erick, “are we, Sally? Just you promise right away, Grandfather.”
The latter held out his hand to the mother and said: “If it suits Mamma, then we both will promise, that it shall continue, as long as it pleases our children.”
The mother gave her hand on it, and now the two hands were pressed most heartily.
And the pastor said: “So, so! Agreements are made between the colonel and the parson’s wife behind my back, and I have nothing to do with it but say yes. Well, then, I will say at once a firm _yes_ and _Amen_.”
With these words he too shook his guest’s hand firmly and there remained only to take leave from Ritz and Edi, both of whom he heartily invited to Denmark, wherein Erick strongly supported him, adding: “And you know, Edi, when you are in Denmark, then you can go on ships, and study there all about them. That will be a good thing for your calling.” For Erick had not forgotten that Edi intended to sail around the whole world, and that Ritz too wanted to be something on the sea.
The grandfather was already entering the travelling coach, when Erick was held back by ‘Lizebeth; he had pressed into her hand a valuable paper, but she had put her apron to her eyes and had begun to sob aloud behind it, and now she was holding Erick and said: “I think the Sir Grandfather, he means it well as far as he sees things; but that he takes the dear boy away from us,–to take one’s little boy simply away–“
“I will come back again, ‘Lizebeth, every year when the storks return. Therefore, good-bye, ‘Lizebeth, until I come again.”
Saying this, Erick quickly jumped into the carriage, and he wore the same velvet suit in which he had come. For a long, long time he saw the white handkerchiefs wave, and he waved his in answer, until the carriage, down below at the foot of the hill, turned around the corner and disappeared into the woods. But when the fleet horses, soon after, reached the first houses of the Middle Lot, there was another halt.
From the moment that Erick had disappeared, Churi had looked like a picture of horror. He had grown white and grayish looking, and at every sound that he heard, he trembled, for he thought: “Now they are coming to fetch you, to put you into prison.” Churi had heard that someone who had thrown another boy into the water had been fetched by two gendarmes and had been put into prison, where he had been kept for twenty years in chains. Churi saw this picture always before him and for fear, he could no longer eat nor sleep; and he dared look at no one. And when the report came that Erick had turned up again, then his fear increased. For now, so he thought, it would surely come out that he had done the deed; and now he was sure that the police would come to get him. But when on Sunday, the story went round like lightning that Erick, in looking for berries, had fallen into the water, then it all at once was clear to Churi, that Erick had not told about him and that he again could go about quite free and without fear. A great, oppressive weight fell from Churi’s heart, and he was so touched by Erick’s kindness and generosity that he did not sleep from thinking what he could possibly do for Erick to show him his gratitude.
It had really been so. Erick had thought that Churi had not meant to push him into the water, so he had felt sorry for him, if he should be punished for what he did not mean to do, and so Erick had only said that he had received a push when looking for berries, and had fallen into the water. And they had assumed that the boys had knocked each other about as usual, and Erick had been pushed accidentally.
Churi had thought out his reward, and had arranged the following program. All the scholars of Middle Lot had to place themselves in a long line along the street, and when now the carriage with Erick came driving along, they, the scholars, all together must shout, “Hurrah for Erick.”
As they one and all now shouted with all their might, there was a terrible noise, so that the horses jumped and shied. But the coachman had them well in hand and brought them in a short time to stand quietly. At this moment one of the boys shot out of the line and onto the carriage step. It was Churi. He bent to Erick’s ear and whispered: “I will never again hurt you as long as I live, Erick, and when you come back again, you just reckon on me; no one shall ever touch you, and you shall have all the crabs and strawberries and hazel nuts which I can find.”
But on the other side someone else had sprung on the carriage step and clamored for Erick’s attention. He felt something under his nose from which came various odors. It was an enormous bunch of fire-red and yellow flowers, which Kaetheli held out to him, who with one foot on the step was balancing over the colonel, and called to Erick: “Here, Erick, you must take a nosegay from the garden with you, and when you come back, be sure you come and see us, do not forget.”
“Thank you, Kaetheli,” Erick called back, “I shall certainly come to see you, a year from now. Good-bye, Kaetheli, good-bye, Churi!”
Both jumped down, and the horses started.
“Look, look, Grandfather,” cried Erick quickly, and pulled the grandfather in front of him, so that he could see better. “Look, there is Marianne’s little house. Do you see the small window? There Mother always sat and sewed, and you see, close beside it stood the piano, where Mother sat the very last time and sang.”
The grandfather looked at the little window and he frowned as though he were in pain.
“What did your mother sing last, my boy?” he then asked.
“I lay in heaviest fetters,
Thou com’st and set’st me free;
I stood in shame and sorrow,
Thou callest me to Thee;
And lift’st me up to honor
And giv’st me heavenly joys
Which cannot be diminished
By earthly scorn and noise.”
When Erick had ended, the grandfather sat for a while quiet and lost in thought; then he said: “Your mother must have found a treasure when in misery, which is worth more than all the good luck and possessions which she had lost. The dear God sent that to her, and we will thank Him for it, my boy. That, too, can make me happy again, else the sight of that little window would crush my heart forever. But that your mother could sing like that, and that you, my boy, come into my home with me, that wipes away my suffering and makes me again a happy father.”
The grandfather took Erick’s hand lovingly in his, and so they drove toward the distant home.