All traces of her tears had long vanished, and nothing betrayed their secret to the family.
Both children slept quietly in their beds soon after, and Pussy dreamed of the red candy cock, and shouted out with pleasure in her dreams. Presently there was a loud knocking at the house-door, that made Colonel Ritter and his wife spring up from the table, where they were comfortably talking about the children; and old Trine called out of the window, in an angry tone,—
"What sort of a way of knocking is that?"
"A terrible thing has happened," said some one from below. "We want the colonel to come down the hill. They have found Andrew the carpenter dead." And off ran the messenger again.
Mr. and Mrs. Ritter had heard enough, however, for they had heard this sad news from the window. The colonel threw his cloak about his shoulders, and hastened down to the carpenter's. As he entered the room, he found that there were already a crowd of people assembled. The justice of the peace and the chief magistrate had been fetched, and a number of curious and sympathetic people had come along with them. Andrew lay on the floor, in his blood, and gave no sign of life. The colonel went to his side.
"Has nobody been for the doctor?" he asked. "We want a doctor at once."
Nobody had thought of that,—there was no use in trying to do any thing, they said.
"Run, somebody, as quickly as possible," said the colonel. "Go, you,"—to a lad who stood near,—"tell the doctor that I send him word to come here immediately." He helped to raise Andrew from the ground, and to carry him into his bedroom, and to lay him on the bed. Then he went back to the chattering group of neighbors, to find out how the accident had taken place,—if anybody knew the precise circumstances.
The miller's son stepped forward, and told his story. He was passing the house about a half-hour ago, he said; and, seeing a light in the window, stopped to ask if his bits of furniture were finished. He found the door of the room open, and Andrew lying dead on the floor, covered with blood; and by his side stood Meadow-Joggi, and held out a piece of gold between his fingers. Then the miller's son had called all the neighbors, and sent some one for the chief magistrate and everybody whose business it was.
Meadow-Joggi—who was so called because he lived down in the meadow-land—was a foolish fellow, who was supported by the neighbors, who gave him little jobs of work suitable to his feeble capacity, such as carrying sand or stone where they were needed, or helping to sort the fruit, or gathering fagots in winter.
No one ever had heard of his doing any mischief. The miller's son told him to stay where he was until the president came; and so Joggi stood in the corner, held his fist tightly closed, and laughed to himself. The doctor soon arrived on the scene, and behind him came the president. The council took its place in the middle of the room, to consider the case. The doctor, however, went at once into the bedroom, and the colonel followed him. The doctor examined the motionless body carefully.
"Here it is," he cried presently. "Here, at the back of the head, is where Andrew was struck. There is a large wound here."
"But he is not dead, doctor, is he?"
"No, no; he breathes feebly, but it is with difficulty."
The doctor wanted all sorts of things,—water and sponges, and linen rags, and so on,—and the people ran this way and that, and searched and pulled things out from the closets and drawers, and produced a heap of things, but nothing that was useful for this occasion.
"We want a woman here who has some intelligence, and knows what is needed in sickness," said the doctor at last, rather impatiently. They all called out this one or that one; but not one was able to come of all those mentioned.
"Let somebody go to the 'Heights,' and tell my wife to send old Trine down here," said the colonel. And somebody ran off.
"Your wife won't thank you," said the doctor; "for I shall not be able to let the nurse leave this patient for three days and nights."
Trine came, laden with all needful things, much sooner than anybody dared hope for her; for she was all ready with her big basket packed, and her mistress stood by her side, expecting the order for her to go down to Andrew's; for they would not believe that Andrew was dead, and had thought of every thing that could possibly be needed. She had sponges and bandages, lint and oil, and warm flannels, packed in her basket, and had only to run off when the messenger came. The doctor was delighted.
"Everybody must go now. Good-night, colonel; and turn all those people out of the house, will you?" cried the doctor, and closed the door without ceremony as soon as the colonel went out.
The committee was still sitting, but the colonel explained that the house must be emptied; so they decided to imprison Joggi, and then institute investigations. Two men took Joggi between them, so that he could not get away, and carried him off to the poor-house, and shut him up in a room. Joggi went with them very willingly, and laughed now and then, and looked into his hand.
The following morning Mrs. Ritter hastened down to Andrew's house in great anxiety. Trine came softly from the bedroom, and brought the welcome news that Andrew had come to himself a little; that the doctor had already made his visit, and found his patient in better condition than he expected; but he left especial orders that nobody should be allowed to enter the room. Andrew was not to be permitted to speak one word, even if he wished to speak: only the doctor and the nurse might come into his presence. Trine said these words with great pride, for she was a very good nurse, and well aware of the importance of the situation. Mrs. Ritter fully appreciated all this, and went home rejoicing over the news.
A week went by. Every morning Mrs. Ritter went down to the sick man's house to obtain an accurate statement of his condition herself, and to find out if any thing were needed for his comfort, in order that all his wants might be supplied at once. Every day Otto and Pussy sent the same message; namely, "When could they be permitted to see their sick friend?" but the doctor was inexorable. There was no possibility of Trine being allowed to go, either; and the doctor could not praise her enough for her intelligent care of the patient. After the week was fairly over, however, the doctor sent word to the colonel that if he would come to Andrew's at the same time he made his daily visit, they would go in together; for now that Andrew was able to talk, the doctor wished to have the colonel hear what could be told about the terrible assault that had prostrated the good carpenter.
Andrew was very glad to press the colonel's hand gratefully in his own,—he knew very well where all the care and comfort came from with which he was surrounded.
He collected his thoughts to the best of his ability to answer the questions put to him. This was, however, all that he could tell them. He had taken out the yearly sum of money that he always carried up to the colonel for investment, and was in the act of counting it over once again, to be sure that it was right. It was rather late in the evening, and he was seated with his back towards the door. While he was in the midst of counting, he heard some one enter the room; and before he had time to turn about, he received a tremendous blow upon his head. After that, all was a blank.
There had been a heap of money upon the table. Nothing was to be found of it, however, but the piece that Joggi held in his hand when they found him.
Even supposing that Joggi were the malefactor, where was the rest of that money? When Andrew learned that they had taken Joggi into custody and shut him up, he was very uneasy.
"Oh, you must let him go, poor Joggi!" he said. "He never would hurt the smallest infant. He never struck me."
For all that, Andrew had no suspicion who it could have been. He had no enemy, he said, and knew of nobody who would wish him harm.
"It may have been a stranger," suggested the doctor, as he looked at the window. "If you sat here, with the bright light shining upon your pile of money while you counted it over on the table, anybody going by the house could have seen you, and taken a notion to rob you."
"I suppose it must have been in that way," said Andrew. "I never thought of such a thing, however. Every thing has always stood open in the house."
"It is well that you have laid something by already, Andrew," said the colonel. "Do not fret over this: it is so lucky that you will soon be well again."
"Certainly, colonel; and I have every reason for thankfulness. The good God has given me far more than I have any use for." And he shook hands with his friends, who agreed, in parting, that Andrew was much less to be pitied than the man who tried to kill him.
There was a sad story told about Joggi, which excited the sympathy of the schoolboys exceedingly. Otto brought it home with him and repeated it several times, for it made a deep impression on his mind. It seemed that when they brought Joggi, laughing all the way, into the almshouse that evening, he was told to give up his piece of gold to one of his guards,—the son of the justice of the peace; but Joggi shut his fist tighter, and would not give it up at all. But the two men were stronger than he, and at last forced his hand open; and, as they took the money away from him, one of them said, "Only wait a little till the others come, then you will get what you deserve. You will see!" For he was vexed at the scratches he had got in the struggle.
These threats had frightened the poor half-witted fellow, who thought he was going to be beheaded, having no idea of what his punishment might be. And he refused to eat, and cried and groaned incessantly.
The officers of justice had been to see him twice, to assure him that, if he would only tell them what he had done, he should not be punished. He repeated that he had not done any thing but look in at the window; and when he saw Andrew on the floor, he went to him and shook him a little, and then he was dead. He saw something shining in the corner, and picked it up; and then the miller's son came in, and a lot of other people.
When Joggi got thus far in his story, he began to cry and groan, and would not be pacified.
ANDREW IS BETTER, AND SOMEBODY ELSE, ALSO.
Mrs. Ritter went, as usual, to visit her friend, but no longer remained closeted with Trine, for she could now go freely into his room, talk with him for a little while, and mark his daily improvement. Otto and Pussy also paid several visits, armed with dainties for their favorite. So that Andrew said to the old Trine, with great feeling, "If I were a king, they could not show me more kindness."
The doctor was well pleased with the rapidity of the cure, and said to the colonel, whom he met on the threshold one day,—
"Every thing has worked wonderfully well. Your wife can have her Trine back again; and tell her she was worth her weight in gold. I only wish there were some one to stay with Andrew for a little while; or who could come in, now and then, to help him. The poor fellow must have something to eat, and he has no wife nor child,—in fact, nobody. Do ask Mrs. Ritter if she cannot think of something that will help us."
The colonel carried his message correctly, and his wife went the next day to Andrew's, as usual; and, seating herself by his bedside, said, without circumlocution, "I have something to say to you, Andrew. Are you inclined to listen to me?"
"Certainly, certainly. Every thing you do is right," said Andrew, supporting his head on his hand, and prepared to give her all his attention.
"I am going to take Trine away, now that you are so well," began Mrs. Ritter.
"Oh, dear lady, I beg you to believe me, I have wished to send her home for a long time past. I know how much you must miss her."
"I would not have allowed her to enter my house, if she had tried to come back before," replied Mrs. Ritter. "But now it is different: the doctor has dismissed her. He says, however,—and I fully agree with him,—that you need some one who can wait upon you, cook for you, or fetch your food from my house, and do a hundred little things: somebody for at least a few weeks. Now, Andrew, why cannot you have little Wiseli to do this?"
The words were scarcely spoken, when Andrew almost sprang up in his bed.
"No, no, Mrs. Ritter; certainly not!" he said, and became very red from excitement. "I could not dream of such a thing. Could I lie here in bed, and let that delicate little thing work for me out there in the kitchen? Oh! in Heaven's name, how could I think of her poor mother, where she lies buried? How she would look at me, if she knew of my doing such a thing. No, no, Mrs. Ritter; I would rather not get well at all."
Mrs. Ritter did not try to stop him; but, when he sunk back again upon his pillow, she said quietly,—
"It is not any thing very shocking, however, that I have proposed, Andrew: think it over now. You know what kind of care Wiseli is getting, do you not? Do you suppose she has nothing to do there, or even light work suitable to her strength? Hard work she has, and hard words with it. Would you give her any thing like that? Do you know what the child's mother would do, if she were standing here by our side? She would thank you, with tears in her eyes, if you would take her child into your house, where she could be happy. I am sure of that. And you would soon see how useful she would make herself."
After these touching words, Andrew began to take another view of the matter. He wiped his eyes, and said softly, "How can I be sure that the child would be willing? And how can I get her? Her cousin would not wish to part with her, probably."
"That is all right. You need not trouble yourself about that, Andrew," said his friend, cheerfully, as she rose to go. "I will attend to it all for you. It is a thing about which I have thought long and anxiously."
She took her leave; but, as she was passing out of the door, Andrew called out again,—
"Only in case Wiseli herself is perfectly willing: you will not forget that, please, Mrs. Ritter."
She promised again that the child should come gladly, or not at all, and left the house.
She went down the hill at once to the beech grove, for she was impatient to take Wiseli where she could think of her in safety. She met the cousin Gotti just as he was himself entering his own house. He saluted her, without concealing his surprise at her visit. But she did not leave him in doubt for a moment over the object that brought her there, and how anxious she was that Wiseli should take charge of the wounded Andrew at once, as she was sure she could do, if they were willing. His wife, who was in the kitchen, came directly she heard their voices, and was at once informed of Mrs. Ritter's proposition. But she answered that it was not possible, for the child was not able to be of use to anybody. But her husband interposed. The truth should be told: Wiseli was able and willing to work, and did so, well and intelligently. He did not wish to have her go, for she was useful and obedient. He would not refuse, for two weeks or so, to let her nurse Andrew. He would not probably need her longer than that, and then she must come back; for there was a great deal of work on hand against the spring.
"Yes, yes," said his wife. "I have no mind to begin it all over again teaching her, it has given me so much trouble already. If Andrew wants anybody to help him, let him get somebody for himself."
"Well, well; for two weeks, as I have promised, she shall go. It is our duty to help a neighbor, if we can."
"I thank you for your kindness," said Mrs. Ritter, rising. "And Andrew will himself show his gratitude. May I take Wiseli with me at once?"
Although his wife grumbled out that there could not be any such hurry, her husband said it was better the child should go at once. The sooner she went, the more quickly she would be back again; and repeated that it was only for fourteen days in all.
Wiseli was called, and told to get her clothes together, and tied in a bundle. The child obeyed, not daring to ask for a reason. It was exactly a year since she had brought the little bundle into the house. Nothing had been added to her scanty wardrobe in that time but a black frock. She wore that now, but it had been so long in use, that it hung about her almost in rags; and Wiseli looked shyly at Mrs. Ritter as she stood before her now, with her little bundle on her arm. The colonel's wife understood the look, and answered it. "Come, my dear; we are not going far away. You can go as you are."
Quickly taking leave, she waited only for Wiseli to give her cousin Gotti her hand. He said,—
"Oh, you are soon coming back; this is not a separation."
Off trotted Wiseli in silence, and much astonished, behind Mrs. Ritter, who walked rapidly across the snow-covered fields, as if she feared they both might be recalled; but as soon as they were out of sight of the beech grove, she turned about, and stood still. "Wiseli," she said kindly, "do you know Andrew the carpenter?"
"Certainly, I do," said the child; and glanced at her friend with such a happy expression, that Mrs. Ritter was rather surprised.
"He is ill," she proceeded. "Would you like to take care of him, and wait upon him a little, for about two weeks?"
"Yes, indeed!" replied the child promptly; and her face, that became suddenly rosy with pleasure, told Mrs. Ritter more than her short answer.
The good lady was pleased, but did not understand the child's feeling, for she knew nothing of her gratitude for Andrew's kindness to her mother. After they had gone on a while, Mrs. Ritter said,—
"You can tell Andrew the carpenter that you are very glad to go to take care of him, or he will not believe it. Don't forget to tell him that."
"No, no; I won't forget," said Wiseli. "I was just thinking about it myself."
They reached the house at last. Mrs. Ritter told Wiseli to go in alone, promising to come down in the morning to see how things went on; and, if she needed any thing for her patient, she could come up to the "Heights" to fetch it herself.
Wiseli stole into the garden, and opened the house-door. She knew that Andrew lay within in the bed-room behind the sitting-room. She entered the room softly. No one was there; but it was in good order, as old Trine had left it when she went away.
The child looked about to see that every thing was in the right place. Against the wall, in the back part of the room, stood a big wooden bedstead called a coach, and which was all arranged like a proper bed. The curtain was almost closed across it, but Wiseli could see how neat and clean it looked, and wondered who slept there usually. Presently she knocked quietly at the bedroom door; and when Andrew called out, "Come in," she entered, and shyly stood before him. Andrew raised himself in his bed to see who was there.
"Oh, oh!" he said, partly glad and partly startled. "Is that you, Wiseli? Come here; give me your hand." The child obeyed.
"You did not come to me against your will?"
"No, no," replied the child; "surely not." But Andrew was not satisfied.
"I mean, Wiseli," he continued, "perhaps you would have liked better not to come; but perhaps you wanted to do a kindness to the good colonel's wife, she is so kind."
"No, no," repeated the child again; "she did not say any thing to me about it being for her. She only asked me if I was willing to go to you, and there is nobody in all the world to whom I would go so gladly as to you."
These words must have quieted all Andrew's scruples, for he did not ask any more questions, but let his head sink back on his pillow, and lay gazing silently at Wiseli; and presently he turned his head aside, and wiped his eyes several times.
"What shall I do now?" asked Wiseli, as Andrew did not move his head. He turned at the sound of her voice, and said, very kindly, "I do not know, I am sure, Wiseli. You may do any thing that you like, if you will only stay with me a little while."
Wiseli scarcely knew what to think. Since the death of her mother, nobody had spoken to her in such kindly, loving tones. It seemed as if her mother's voice and love were come into Andrew's words and tones. She took his hand in both hers, as she often took her mother's, and stood by the bedside. She did not even speak, but felt that her mother's loving presence was about them. Andrew, too, had a silent, peaceful conviction that Wiseli's mother was happy in their happiness.
Presently Wiseli said, "I think I ought to cook something for you: it is past twelve o'clock already. What shall I cook?"
"Whatever you like," said Andrew. But Wiseli knew that she was there for the purpose of making things comfortable for the sick man, and she did not cease her questioning until she found out what he usually had to eat,—a good nourishing soup, and a piece of the meat that was in the closet; and then Andrew said she must cook something with milk for herself.
The child was perfectly at home in the kitchen. She had really learned a great deal at her cousin Gotti's, even if she had received many cross words at the same time. She had every thing ready in a short time; and Andrew begged her to push a little table to the bedside, and sit down and eat with him, so that he could enjoy the pleasure of her company. Neither Wiseli nor Andrew had eaten such a pleasant meal for a long, long time. After eating, Wiseli rose; but Andrew looked at her sadly, and said, "Where are you going now, Wiseli? Won't you stay with me here a little longer, or is it too dull for you?"
"No, indeed, not dull; but after dinner the things must be washed and put away in their places in good order," said the child.
"I know," said Andrew; "but I thought that just for to-day—the first day, you know—you might put them away as they are, and to-morrow wash them all together."
"But if the colonel's wife should see them so, I should almost die of shame;" and Wiseli looked very grave while she spoke.
"Yes, yes; you are right," said Andrew. "Do whatever you think best."
So the child went to work, and cleaned and sorted and swept, so that every thing shone in the kitchen. Then she stood quietly, and looked on her work with satisfaction, saying softly, "Now Mrs. Ritter may come when she will."
Going into the room next the kitchen, she cast an admiring glance at the beautiful big bed on the "coach" behind the curtain; for Andrew the carpenter had told her that she was to sleep there, and that the little chest of drawers in the corner was also for her, and that she might put all her things there, if she liked.
So she laid away all the clothes in her little bundle in good order; but it did not take long to do that, they were so few. At last she returned to Andrew, and seated herself by his bedside. He had been looking towards the door very wistfully for a long time. She had scarcely seated herself before she asked, "Have not you a stocking to be knitted, or something else for me to do?"
Wiseli had been well drilled,—first by her mother, and then by her cousin's wife, whose words she never forgot, they frightened her so; and when Andrew said, "Oh, you have worked enough for to-day; let us sit still and talk over all sorts of things together now," the child replied, "I do not like to sit and do nothing, for it is not Sunday; but we can talk while I knit, you know."
Andrew was pleased at this sign of the little girl's industry, and he again bade her do whatever she thought right and best. She might get a stocking to knit, if she wanted to: he had not one for her, however.
So Wiseli fetched her own, and took her seat by the bedside; and, truly, she could talk and knit at the same time perfectly well.
Andrew chose the one subject for their conversation that was by far the most agreeable to Wiseli; namely, her mother. It was the first time she had been able to talk about her mother to anybody since her death. But now she had a listener who could not hear enough, and so she told all that she could remember of their happy life together.
And day after day slipped by. For every little thing that Wiseli did, Andrew thanked her over and over,—not from politeness or mere form, but because every thing pleased the good man, and he wanted to express his pleasure. He became strong and well very rapidly under Wiseli's care, and soon was able to leave his bed. And the doctor was much surprised to see how quickly his strength had returned, and how happy he looked besides. He sat at the window in the sunshine all day long, and watched Wiseli as she moved about, as if he could never get enough of her. His eyes followed her as she went here to a drawer, opened it and shut it again; and noticed how every thing that passed through her hands was done in an orderly, regular manner, such as he had never seen before. And Wiseli was so happy, so happy, in this quiet little house, where she never heard any but loving words, and moved constantly in an atmosphere of affection, that made it impossible for her to allow her thoughts to dwell on the sad fact that the fourteen days would soon be past, and then she must return to the beech grove.
SOMETHING VERY STRANGE HAPPENS.
On the "Heights" there was a great deal of talk about Andrew and Wiseli. Mrs. Ritter went down every day, and always brought back good accounts. They all rejoiced together over this, and Otto and Pussy formed a plan to have a great convalescence festival in Andrew the carpenter's room while Wiseli was still with him. It should be a great surprise for them both. But before that came another feast,—their father's birthday. And the children had invented all sorts of "celebrations" from early morning on, but the great moment was yet to come; namely, at dinner-time. Otto and Pussy had taken their seats, full of excitement and expectancy.
The father and mother made their appearance, and the merriment began.
After one or two surprises came a large covered dish,—certainly that was a birthday dish. The cover was removed, and, behold, a beautiful cauliflower!
"This is a fine vegetable," said the father; "I must admire it. But, to tell the truth," he went on, with an air of disappointment, "I expected something different. I expected artichokes. They are to be found and bought as well as cauliflowers. You know, my dear Mary, there is no dish I care for so much as artichokes."
Suddenly Pussy called out,—
"That is it! that is it! That is exactly what he called to me twice. And he raised his stick in the air, and did so,"—and Pussy raised her arm in the air in great excitement. But suddenly she was quiet, and put her arm under the table, and turned crimson; and Otto, who sat on the other side of the table, looked at her with flashing eyes and very angry looks.
"What is this?" asked the colonel. "A strange way to celebrate my birthday. My daughter cries out, on one side, as if some one were going to kill her; and, on the other, my son is giving me such kicks on the shin that I shall soon be covered with black-and-blue spots. I should like to know where you learned this agreeable amusement, Otto?"
Now it was Otto's turn to become fiery red. His intention had been to give Pussy certain decided warnings to keep quiet, but his boot had encountered his father's leg instead, and not gently either. When he discovered his mistake, he did not dare to raise his eyes.
"Now, Pussy," said the colonel, "tell me the end of your robber story. You said the terrible man called out 'artichokes' to you, and raised his stick in the air; and then"—
"Then—then," stammered Pussy, who perceived that she had betrayed every thing, and would have to give the sugar cock back to Otto again. "Then he did not strike me, or kill me."
"Well, that was nice of him," said her father, laughing. "And what else?"
"Nothing else," said Pussy, whimpering.
"Well, then, the story had a good ending. The stick remained in the air, and Pussy came back to the house like an 'artichoke.' Now we will drink the health of the 'artichokes' and of Andrew the carpenter together."
The father raised his glass, and his companions did the same. When they left the table, they were all rather sad; all except the father, who took his newspaper, and lighted his cigar, as usual. Otto stayed in another room in the corner, and thought how, when the children were all allowed to go again to coast by moonlight, he would be obliged to remain at home; for his mother would not now let him go, he was sure. Pussy crept into her bedroom, nestled down in a corner by the bed upon a footstool, took the red candy cock upon her lap, and felt very sadly at the thought that she held it for the last time.
At the window her mother stood sadly thinking. She soon became agitated, however, and moved uneasily about the room, and presently began to seek for her little daughter in every corner. She found her at last, in her hiding-place behind the bed, sunk in deep dejection.
"Pussy," said her mother, "I want you to tell me the story about the man who threatened you. When was it, and where, and what words did he use?"
Pussy told all that she knew, but did not give much more information than she had conveyed at the table. The man had called out the same word that her father had used at table,—that she was sure of. Her mother turned away, went directly to the room where her husband was smoking, and said, in a very excited tone, "I must tell you, for I am more and more sure of it."
The colonel put down his newspaper and looked at his wife, much surprised.
"That scene at table has made me think of something; and the more I think, the surer I am about it."
"Do sit down, and tell me what you mean," said the colonel, who now became very curious. His wife did as he desired, and went on.
"You noticed Pussy's excitement. She must have been very much frightened by the man of whom she spoke. She was not joking. Therefore it is clear to my mind that the word was not 'artichoke,' but 'aristocrat,' that he used. Now you know who used to call us that,—my brother and I. Pussy has just told me that this took place on that evening when they all went coasting by moonlight; and that was the night when Andrew was assaulted and robbed. That rascally fellow Jorg has not been seen for years in this vicinity; and the very first time that there is any trace of him, we hear of this act of brutality towards his brother, against whom no one but he has any grudge. Do not you think there is something strange in this?"
"Yes; certainly there may be something in it," said the colonel. "I must look it up at once."
He arose, called his servant, and presently rode off at a sharp trot towards the town.
And for several days he continued to go there, to hear if the investigation had produced any result. On the fourth day he came home towards evening, and sent word to Mrs. Ritter, who was seated by Pussy's bed, that he had something important to tell her. It was that the police had been seeking for Jorg, and had found him without much delay; for he had not taken precautions to conceal himself, being sure that no one had seen him on the evening when he visited his native village. He had, therefore, merely gone to the city, and was spending his time in the taverns. When they took him into custody, and accused him, he denied every thing; but when he heard that Colonel Ritter had accusations to make against him, he was intimidated, thinking that the colonel must have seen him, or he would never have suspected him, as he had just returned from the Neapolitan army service. It never occurred to him that one single word that he had thrown to a little child had betrayed him.
When he heard the truth, he began to swear terribly, and declared he had always known that those aristocrats would bring him into trouble. On further examination, he said he had gone to his brother's house with the intention of asking him for a loan of money; but when he looked through the brilliantly lighted window and saw the big pile of money lying on the table, it occurred to him that he would strike Andrew down and rob him. He had not meant to kill him,—only render him insensible. Nearly all the money was found at his lodgings, and taken. Jorg was lodged in the prison.
When these facts were made known in the village, everybody was very much interested and excited, for nothing of the kind had happened before in that small place. In the school, particularly, every thing was topsy-turvy, for the children were as much excited as their elders. Otto scarcely stopped to take breath all day long, for he ran from one place to another, hoping to hear the latest news at each. He came to the house, on the third evening, in such a state, that his mother told him that he must sit perfectly quiet and silent for a little while before he communicated the piece of news with which he was bursting.
At last he was calm enough to tell them that they wanted to set Joggi free, for he had been shut up all this time; but the poor fellow was so convinced that they only wanted to take him out to cut off his head, that he fought against being removed with all his might. So they decided to take him out by force, and two men dragged him into the open air. He fought and screamed so violently, that a crowd soon assembled; and the poor, foolish fellow, becoming more and more alarmed, had darted away like an arrow to the nearest barn, where he took refuge from his imaginary danger in a stall, cowering down in a heap in one corner, and would not let anybody approach him. His countenance showed his terrible fear. He had been there all day and night; and now the peasant to whom the barn belonged said if he did not move soon, he would use the pitchfork to him.
"It is a sad, sad story, my children," said their mother, when Otto had finished. "Poor Joggi! how terribly he must suffer from his fear, that nobody can relieve him of, because he cannot understand what is said; and yet he is perfectly innocent of any evil deed or wish. Oh, if you had only told me what had happened that evening on the coast! Your keeping that a secret has had very, very sad consequences. Cannot we do something to comfort and reassure him again?"
Pussy was almost crying. "I will give him my red candy cock," she said, tearfully.
Otto was much disturbed, but he said, scornfully,—
"Yes; a nice present for a grown up man,—a sugar cock! You had better keep it for yourself."
After a moment he asked his mother, however, to allow Pussy to carry some food to Joggi in the barn: he had not eaten any thing for nearly two days.
His mother was more than willing, and had a basket filled at once with bread and sausage and cheese for the children, and sent them off without delay. Poor Joggi! there he was cowering in the stall, white as a sheet, and dared not stir. The children gradually drew near, and presently Otto held out his basket and showed the food, hoping to tempt Joggi.
"Come out, Joggi. See, all this is for you to eat."
There was no sign of movement.
"Do come out, or the peasant will stick his pitchfork into you."
The poor fellow gave a piteous moan, but still did not stir.
Now Pussy went quite close to him, put her mouth to his ear, and said, gently, "Do not be frightened, Joggi; they won't cut off your head. My papa will help you, and will not let anybody harm you. And see, Joggi; here is a candy cock, all red. Santa Claus sent you this on the Christmas-tree." And the little girl took the cock very carefully from her pocket, and held it out to Joggi.
This little gift had a wonderful effect. Joggi looked at his friend without fear, then at the candy cock, and presently began to laugh. It was many days since he had laughed. He rose slowly from his corner, and followed Otto out of the barn behind Pussy. When they got well out of the yard, Otto said,—
"You can take this basket, Joggi; we are going up there to our house. Your way is down yonder."
But Joggi shook his head, and followed close to Pussy's heels. They all went up the hill. Their mother watched the little procession coming, and her heart began to feel lighter; and she also noticed how the poor, foolish Joggi held his sugar cock in his hand, and laughed at it with childish satisfaction.
They all three entered the house and went into the sitting-room, where Pussy fetched a chair, and, taking the basket in her hand, beckoned Joggi to come to her; and when he was seated at the table, she spread out the bread and cheese and sausage before him, saying, very gently, "Now do eat,—eat up every bit, Joggi, and be happy again."
The poor fellow obeyed, and left no crumbs. He never relinquished his hold of the red cock, however. He held it in his left hand, and nodded and smiled at it from time to time. For bread and cheese and sausage he had often received, but a red candy cock never before.
At last he went down the hill to his cottage. With very happy looks Mrs. Ritter and Otto and Pussy followed his retreating form, and noticed that he changed the red cock from one hand to another, and had evidently forgotten his fears. Mrs. Ritter had not visited Andrew during three days. There was so much going on all the time, that she had not perceived how the time passed; and then she no longer felt the least anxiety about him. He was well cared for,—of that she was certain,—and was on the best road towards health and strength.
As soon as Colonel Ritter could go, he took the news of the arrest and imprisonment of Andrew's brother to the good carpenter, who listened to the story quietly, and said, after a while,—
"It was his will. It would have been far better for him to have asked me for a little money. I should have given it to him, but his way was ever a blow rather than a kind word."
Mrs. Ritter went down the mountain one cold, frosty morning, and went smiling to herself all the way; for she had pleasant plans and projects in her heart. Just as she opened the door of Andrew's cottage, Wiseli came out of the sitting-room. Her eyes were swollen and red. She had been crying. She gave Mrs. Ritter her hand very shyly, and ran into the kitchen, and shut the door. Mrs. Ritter had never seen Wiseli look in this way. What could have happened? She went into the sitting-room. There sat Andrew by the window. He, too, looked as if a bad piece of news had been brought to him.
"What has happened?" asked Mrs. Ritter; and forgot to say "good-morning," in her anxiety.
"Oh, oh!" sighed Andrew. "I wish that the child had never entered my house."
"Wiseli!" exclaimed his visitor. "Is it possible that Wiseli can have displeased you in any way?"
"Not that, by any means, good lady," Andrew hastened to answer. "No; she has made my home a paradise for me, and now she is going away; and it will seem so empty and lonely without her, I cannot bear it. You never could think, Mrs. Ritter, how I love that child. I cannot bear it, if they take her away. And the cousin Gotti has sent his boy twice to say that she is wanted at his house; and, since then, Wiseli has been so quiet, and cries in secret. It breaks my heart; for I see that she does not want to go there, though she says nothing, and to-morrow is the last day. I do not exaggerate, Mrs. Ritter; but I assure you I would prefer to give all that I have earned and saved for thirty years to her cousin Gotti, than have him take the child away."
"I would not think of doing that. In your place, Andrew, I would go to work another way," said Mrs. Ritter, when Andrew had finished his excited talk.
He questioned her with his eyes in silence.
"I mean in this way. All your worldly goods you will leave to some one who is very dear to you. You will take Wiseli as your adopted child; will be a father to her; she shall henceforth live in your house as your own daughter. You would like that, Andrew, would you not?"
He had listened with all his might, and his eyes grew bigger and bigger. Presently he grasped Mrs. Ritter's hand, and pressed it almost painfully. He leaned forward.
"Can that be done? Can I obtain the right to say that Wiseli is really my own child,—all my own, so that nobody will be able to take her from me again?"
"You can do all that, Andrew. And, once Wiseli is recognized as your child, no one will have the least right to her. You will be her father. And, to tell the truth, Andrew, I hoped that you might wish to do this; and therefore have kept my husband at home, in case you want to go into the city to take the necessary steps towards the adoption. You know you cannot walk, Andrew."
Andrew fairly lost his head over all this. He ran this way and that, looking for his Sunday coat; and kept asking all the time,
"Can it be true? Is it possible? To-day, did you say? May I go to-day?"
"At once," she said; and gave her hand to Andrew as she left him, to tell the colonel that all was ready for the visit to the town. "It will be better not to tell Wiseli until the evening, when every thing is settled, and you are quietly together here," she said, as she stepped out of the door. "Do not you agree with me?"
"Yes, certainly," was the answer. "I could not tell her now."
While Andrew was waiting until Colonel Ritter came for him to drive to the town, he sat trembling in every limb, and thought he could scarcely stand up, he was so happy and so excited. In about half an hour Wiseli saw, to her great surprise, the colonel's wagon drive up, stop at Andrew's door, the servant get down, come to the steps, take Andrew under the arm, and help him to get into the carriage. The child looked at it, as it passed away from the house down the road, and could not understand it at all; for the carpenter had not said any thing to her,—not even that he was going to drive. He had remained seated where he was, after Mrs. Ritter's departure, until the colonel's servant came for him; and the child had kept herself hidden all the time.
After his departure, she went into the sitting-room, and looked out of the window where Andrew always sat, and kept saying to herself, "To-day is the last day. To-morrow I must go to cousin Gotti."
Towards noon the child went into the kitchen, put every thing in order, and arranged Andrew's dinner; but he did not come, and she did not like to remove the things until he did. So she went back into the sitting-room; but the sad thought of the coming separation made her almost ill, and she said to herself, over and over, "To-morrow I must go to cousin Gotti;" and did not see, in her sadness, that the sunset was very beautiful, and betokened a still more beautiful morrow.
The child sprang to her feet when presently she heard the door opened. Andrew the carpenter stood before her with happy eyes, and with a look that Wiseli had never seen on his face. He sunk into a chair. He was overcome, but not with fatigue. At last he cried out, in a triumphant tone,—
"It is true, Wiseli! It is all really true! All the gentlemen said 'Yes,'—every one. You belong to me. I am your father. Call me 'father,' Wiseli."
Wiseli became white as a sheet. She stood staring at Andrew, but did not speak nor move.
"Oh! of course, of course," said the carpenter. "You can't understand me, I tell you all so confusedly. Now I will begin at the beginning. I have just written in the record book in the town, and you are my child now, and I am your father; and you will always stay here with me, and not go back to your cousin Gotti again. This is your home,—here with me."
Wiseli understood now. She sprang into Andrew's arms, clung round his neck, and cried, "Father, father!" They neither could speak a word after this for a long time,—too many things were crowding upon them. After a little, Wiseli felt a sudden light that seemed to break in upon her thoughts; and she exclaimed, looking up at Andrew,—
"O father! I know how it has all happened, and who has helped us."
"Who may it be, Wiseli?" asked Andrew.
"Your mother, child,—who do you mean? Your mother?"
And Wiseli related her dream about the beautiful garden with the red carnations, and a rose-bush on the other side, where the sun shone; and told him how her mother had taken her by the hand and showed her the garden, and said that her way led through that. And Wiseli was sure that her mother had not ceased to pray God to let her child's way be through that garden,—which was Andrew's garden, and the happiest place in the world for Wiseli.
"Do not you believe it too, father, now that you know that in my dream my mother showed me my road to your garden?"
Andrew could not answer. Big tears rolled down his face, but he smiled all the time that he wept. When, at last, he opened his mouth to speak, there came such a terrible knocking at the door, that nothing else could be heard. Open flew the door, and Otto was in the middle of the room with one leap; then he jumped over a chair, and shouted, "Hurrah! we have won, and Wiseli is delivered." Pussy came in behind him, ran at once to her friend, and said, pointing towards the door,—
"Now, Andrew, you will see what is coming for you, to celebrate your recovery."
Scarcely had she spoken, than the baker's boy came struggling through the doorway with a big tray upon his head that could scarcely come through. A good push from behind, however, helped him along, and he put the tray down on the table. Otto and Pussy had ordered the biggest cake, to be made at the baker's, that was ever known; and as it would not have been very large if it were round, they ordered it square, and it quite filled the oven when it was baked. Old Trine stood behind the baker's boy, and her big basket was at her feet. She had brought, among other delicacies, a bottle of good wine; for Mrs. Ritter declared that Andrew had, in all probability, not eaten a morsel since breakfast, and Wiseli was probably fasting also; and the child remembered the fact, now that she saw the feast that Trine spread upon the table. They all took their places, and a merry company they were. To be sure, the grand cake had to be cut in halves, and part put away, for otherwise there was not room on the table for the rest of the supper; but after that they were all more merry than ever feasters were before.
But the time went by, and Trine stood there waiting to take the children home,—it was late. Andrew said, at leave-taking,—
"To-day you have prepared a feast for me, and I thank you with all my heart; but I invite you to come here again on Sunday, and I will give you a feast,—the feast to celebrate my daughter's adoption."
And so they parted, all rejoicing over the fact of Wiseli being so happily at home with Andrew, and the children promising to come to the Sunday celebration. At the door Wiseli gave Otto her hand again, and said, "I thank you a thousand times for all your kindness to me, Otto. Cheppi never was so rude to me again after you frightened him that day. He was afraid to throw things at me. I owe it to your kindness."
"And I owe you something, Wiseli," replied Otto. "I have never had to sweep out the schoolhouse since the time you know of."
"And I thank you, too, Wiseli," said Pussy; for she would not be behind the others in her thanks.
Now every thing was quiet in the little room, and the moonlight streamed in through the window where Andrew took his seat, while Wiseli put all the supper dishes away, and made every thing neat again; then she came to him, and stood before him with folded hands.
"Father," she said, "let me say my mother's hymn aloud to you. I have always said it softly to myself; but I shall never forget it now, I am sure."
Andrew was glad to listen; and the child, raising her eyes to the stars, said, with the very deepest feeling thrilling through her heart,—
"To God you must confide Your sorrow and your pain; He will true care provide, And show you heaven again.
"For clouds and air and wind He points the path and way; Your road He'll also find, Nor let your footsteps stray."
From this day forward the happiest cottage in the whole village was that of Andrew the carpenter, with its sunny garden. Wherever Wiseli showed herself, she received the very kindest notice from all the neighbors, much to the child's surprise. Formerly no one had noticed her particularly, but now even her cousin Gotti and his wife never passed the cottage without coming in to take her by the hand, and invite her to visit them.
This gave the child keen satisfaction, for she had always feared secretly her cousin's feelings about her adoption; so this kindness on his part freed her from all anxiety, and she could go her way peacefully. But these thoughts often rose within her, and she repeated to herself,—
"Otto and his family have always shown me kindness when I was alone in the wide world and friendless: these others are only kind to me since I am happy and have a father. I know well enough who are really my friends."