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Gritli's Children By Johanna Spyri Characters: 21050

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Oscar's suspicions were correct; as soon as the school-house door was opened, the nimble Fani had slipped out among the very first; and had joined Emma, who at once claimed his attention by saying:-

"Come, Fani, I know of a splendid tree for you to draw, and I have the paper and everything all ready."

Fani was more than willing; and off they scampered, first down the road, and then by a path across the meadow to a small green hill, known as Oak-ridge. As they slackened their pace in the ascent, Emma explained her plan. A short time before, the two higher classes in the school had begun to take drawing lessons, a new experiment. Emma and Elsli were in the fifth class, and so was the studious Fred, who, though more than a year younger, was so much in advance of those of his age that he had quite outstripped the fourth class to which he properly belonged, and was, indeed, more clever than most of the members of the fifth. Not in drawing, however. In that, Fani led the whole school, and he was, indeed, so successful with his pencil that the teacher often said to him:-

"Now, Fani, just see what you can do, if you only try! You could do far better than this, even, if you would only take pains, and not be so indifferent and light-minded."

On this very day the teacher had said that he should like to have the children sketch something from nature; a tree or a flower, perhaps; and he assured Fani that he copied trees remarkably well, and that he would, probably, succeed out-of-doors. Emma was very much interested in Fani's drawing; and he had made several pictures especially for her, which she used for book-marks; a rose and a bunch of strawberries, a fisherman, rod in hand, seated by a stream under a tree.

So now Emma told Fani how excited she was when she heard what the teacher said, and how she instantly bethought herself of a splendid oak-tree that she had noticed a few days before when walking with her mother in the meadow, not far from the village; and how impatient she felt to carry Fani off, the moment school was over, that he might set to work that very day to copy it. Talking thus, they reached the top of the ridge and the tree was before them. It was, in truth, a magnificent sight, as it stood on the brow of the hill, and threw its heavy shadow far out all round on the short meadow grass. Fani stood gazing with wonder up into its rich foliage.

"Oh, how beautiful!" he exclaimed. "I'm so glad, Emma, that you thought of it; it is splendid to draw! I'll begin directly; not exactly here, but a little farther off." And Fani stepped slowly back till he had reached the right point of view. There he sat down on the ground, and Emma, placing herself at his side, drew out from her satchel a perfect wealth of paper and pencils.

"There's paper enough there to make a great many sketches," said the boy, as he looked with longing eyes at all this fine material.

"I will give you a lot of it to take home," said Emma. "I thought I would bring a good deal, because you might have to try several times before you got a good picture. Now pick out a pencil, Fani."

It seemed to Fani a wonderful mine of wealth; all this fresh paper, and such an assortment of pencils to choose from. He selected two pencils, and then, spreading a sheet of white paper before him, he began his sketch. Emma watched every stroke with silent intentness. But, as the picture grew under the boy's fingers, she could not control her excitement.

"Oh! oh! Now it looks exactly like the real oak! How nicely you make the branches and all the dear little twigs! Oh! it is the very best thing you ever did, Fani! How pleased the teacher will be! I'm sure none of the others will do anything half so good! How can you do it, Fani? I never could in the world."

"I only just copy what I see," said Fani, whose eyes constantly moved back and forth between the tree and his paper, while his cheeks glowed and his eyes sparkled with excitement. "How lovely those twigs are! and then the leaves! I don't think any leaf is as handsome as an oak-leaf, and just look up there! see how perfectly round the shape of the tree stands out against the sky, as if it had been marked by a pair of compasses. Oh, I wish I could sit all day long drawing this tree; there isn't anything more beautiful in the whole world!"

"I know something!" cried Emma, suddenly; "you must be an artist, Fani. That's the way a painter begins, I'm sure; no one else would ever think of saying that he could sit all day long drawing one tree."

"It's all very well to say that I must be an artist," said Fani, sighing; "but next spring, when I leave school, I shall have to go into the factory and just work hard from morning till night; I couldn't learn to paint then, if I wanted to ever so much, could I?"

"But you do want to ever so much; don't you, Fani? Think how glorious it would be! Wouldn't you do anything in the world for the sake of being a painter?"

"Of course I would, but what can I do? How could I possibly manage it?"

"You just wait; I'll think and think till I can invent some way. Only imagine how fine it will be when you are a famous painter and have nothing to do but to paint and draw all the time. Won't that be just the very best thing you can think of, Fani?"

Emma's enthusiasm was infectious. The pencil dropped from the boy's hand, and he gazed up into the sky as if already looking upon the future canvases which he should cover with pictures when he was a great painter.

"Do you really believe it, Emma? Do you really think that I can ever do it? I should like to begin directly; I feel as if I couldn't wait. But what can I do? How shall I begin?"

"I can't think exactly, but I'm sure I shall get hold of some plan; don't be in too great a hurry," said the girl; "I dare say I shall have something to propose when I go to school to-morrow. But now come; hurry up and finish the oak, and then take the paper and pencils home with you and do something else. You know your drawings will be shown at examination, and will need nice paper and pencils; you have nothing but brown paper; so take this."

Fani was delighted with the gift; it was for want of material that he had not drawn at home, and now there was nothing to prevent him from working to his heart's content. As he put the finishing touches to his sketch, while Emma looked on and admired, the sun went down, the shadows began to fall, and reminded the children that it was quite time to return home.

Fred had meanwhile finished his researches for grubs, and stood outside the hedge, looking up the road, in the hope of seeing his sister Emma, with whom he wished to have a very plain talk on the subject of the paper. On the inside of the hedge, in the garden, stood Oscar, with the same intentions, but in a more seriously displeased state of mind, for had not Emma robbed him of his friend? and just now, too, when he was so important to Oscar; for the preparations for the Festival could not go on without Fani.

Feklitus was of no real assistance, for he was so slow-witted that it was impossible to get an idea into his head; while Fani took every suggestion like a flash, and had things at his finger-ends in a moment. As Oscar thought and fretted over his injuries, his anger with Emma grew apace; he was sure that she had in hand some project, such as she was famous for; it was a shame, and he was determined to ferret it out, and spoil it for her; he would punish her for taking possession of his useful friend; and so on and so on, while Oscar, in growing excitement, paced to and fro with hasty steps.

In the meantime, Fred was peering into the twilight, and along the road, awaiting the coming of the culprit. At last, he saw some one coming along the sidewalk; but it could hardly be Emma, for it was too wide, it took up the whole width of the path. He ran forward, and found that it was Elsli, who was toiling along, her brother Rudi hanging to her skirts on one side, and Heili on the other, while in her arms she was carrying Hans, a solid child of two years. The poor patient girl was quite weighed down under the burden of her three brothers.

"Oh, put that big boy down on his own feet!" cried Fred, who was shocked at the sight of such needless labor, "you are not fit to carry such a load."

"I can't put him down; he begins to scream as soon as I do, and he gets so naughty," said Elsli, as she walked painfully along.

"Are you going to our house?" asked Fred, following her.

"Yes, I am going to fetch something; I have brought a bag to put it into," and Elsli lifted her arm a little and showed a large bag hanging from it.

"You can't carry anything more; do put that fat child down; he will break you in two," said Fred indignantly.

By this time they had reached the house.

"Now I shall have to put you down a minute, Hanli," said Elsli wearily, "for my arm aches so that I cannot bear it any longer." With these words she put the child upon his feet; but he forthwith set up a shriek that brought all the women out of the house with a bound; Mrs. Stein and her sister and Kathri were on the spot in an instant.

"I should like to give you something to scream for!" cried the maid, suiting a significant gesture to her words with the open palm of her hand, as she turned away into the house again. Elsli snatched up the child hastily, and tried to quiet him.

"Mamma, do tell that big cry-baby to stand on his own legs. He'll kill Elsli at this rate; he is far too much for her to lift." Fred spoke in great excitement.

This made the child cry louder than ever, and he clung to his slender sister with such increased force, that she staggered a little and seemed about to fall.

"You really ought to put him down, my child," said the mother; "he would soon get used to it. Come here!" and she tried to take the child from Elsli's arms. It was harder than she expected; for the little fellow clung tight with arms and legs, and kicked with his feet and pounded with his fists, and when at last Mrs. Stein succeeded in detaching him and placing him on the ground, he flung himself upon his sister's skirts, and screamed so lustily that she took him up again, saying resignedly:-

"It's of no use; he's a very naughty little boy; and begins to call to me to carry him as soon as I get home from school."

"Such a big boy as Hans ought to be able to go alone by this time, and then there is the baby besides; how do you manage to do it all, Elsli?


"Oh, Hans is in a dreadful way if I take the baby; he screams and kicks as hard as he can, and then his mother hears him, and she comes running in, and says that she can't have such a noise, and I mustn't let the children scream so. So I have to put the baby into the cradle to quiet Hans, and then I rock the cradle with my foot to quiet the baby."

"Come into the house, Elsli," said the doctor's wife; "you look very tired. Hans, if you will get down and come into the house yourself, you shall have a piece of bread and an apple. Come."

"If you won't come," said her sister, "you can stay here, while Rudi and Heili come with me and get bread and apples. They can walk, without hanging on to Elsli's skirts and tearing her to pieces. Come, boys!"

The two boys did not need urging, but followed their kind friend into the house. And even obstinate little Hans understood what bread and apple meant; when his sister put him down on his feet, he made no resistance, but, taking her hand, stumped along into the house without a word. Fred followed them, switching a willow wand, as if to suggest the most efficient method of teaching Hans to walk by himself. When they reached the dining-room, the boys opened their eyes wide to see the big loaf from which Mrs. Stein cut each a slice, and they were not slow in setting their teeth into the rosy apples, of which each had one for his own. Elsli too had an apple and a slice of bread.

Elsli explained that she had come to get the clothes which Mrs. Stein had told her father to send for.

"You cannot carry them, my child," said Mrs. Stein, "it is enough for you to take the boys home. Tell your mother that I have something to say to her; and when she comes to see me, she can carry the clothes home."

"Don't you care to eat the bread and apple, Elsli?" asked the aunt, noticing that the girl put the apple into her pocket, and held the bread in her hand.

Elsli blushed, as if she were guilty of a breach of good manners, and said, timidly:-

"I should like to take them home to Fani; he will not get any supper to-night."

"It is very nice of you to take it to him," said Mrs. Stein kindly, "but why will he not have his supper?"

"We have done supper at home, and we ate up everything, all the sour milk and potatoes, for there was not a great deal; and father said those who are not there at supper-time are not hungry, and can go without But I know that Fani is hungry, only he is busy about something, and forgets that it is time for supper."

"Where is he? Does he never help you with all these heavy children?"

"No, he is never allowed to help with the children. Mother says he's of no use; he only makes the children naughtier, and he'd better keep out of the way. So he does keep out of the way, and half the time doesn't get any supper, and I can't keep any for him. But he is always good and kind to me. When he does come home he writes my exercises for me; for I never can get time for my lessons, I am so busy all the evening, till mother comes and takes the lamp, and I go to bed."

"It's Fani's own fault if he doesn't come home in time for supper," said aunty. "And you never will learn anything, my child, if he always does your lessons for you."

Elsli turned very red, and her big blue eyes filled with tears.

"I know it. I am the stupidest and most backward scholar in the whole school."

"No, you're not stupid at all," cried Fred eagerly. "It is only that you never know the things that we have to learn by heart. And, now that I know why, I should just like to catch any one laughing at you again! They'd better try it!"

Elsli was seldom merry and lighthearted, like other girls of her age; she was too much weighed down with care and hard work. She looked gratefully at Fred for his kind confidence; but no real joy came into her worn face. She stood up presently and took up her burden again, for Hanseli had given several signs that he was ready to start for home, and wanted her to carry him. The two ladies stood at the door, and watched her as she walked away with slow and weary steps.

"Ah! how I wish that some ray of sunshine could come into that sweet girl's lot!" exclaimed the doctor's wife, and her sister was responding with the same thought, when the sound of noisy voices was heard, which became louder and louder, as Emma came running through the garden, a brother on each side, and both accosting her in vehement tones.

"What made you carry Fani off again?"

"What have you done with all the exercise-paper?"

"What are you and he up to now?"

"It's all your fault if we can't do our lessons."

"Where have you hidden him, so that he doesn't keep his promise and come to the meeting?"

"Where have you put all the paper; I haven't even begun on my exercises!"

The angry questioners, with Emma between them, came up the steps. Their mother was just then called away; their aunt exclaimed:-

"Be still, boys; how can Emma answer either of you, if you both keep up such a fire of questions?"

Emma darted to her aunt's side, and eagerly whispered in her ear what she had done with the paper; adding:-

"Do help me, aunty; you know if Oscar knew that, it would only make him more angry."

Her aunt could not find it in her heart to blame Emma for the use she had made of the paper.

"Come in, boys," she said, "and learn your lessons, and be quiet for a while; I'll give you plenty of paper"; adding, as a farther argument, "your father will be at home directly, and you know he will not want a noise in the house."

They came in quietly enough, and soon the four brothers and sisters were industriously at work over their lessons, around the table; even Oscar forgetting Fani for the time, in the interest of his studies. It seemed as if peace and quiet were ensured for the rest of the evening. But suddenly the silence was disturbed by a harrowing cry from Rikli, who pushed her chair back from the table, and ran out of the room into the passage-way, as if some monster were after her. All looked up from their work and looked around in alarm for the cause of the outburst.

"Here, here!" cried Emma, pointing to the table, where a shining green gold-chafer was gravely walking over the white paper, evidently an escaped prisoner from the pocket of the indefatigable collector.

"Oh, Fred! you shouldn't carry live creatures about in your pockets," said his mother, gently. "You have plenty of boxes for them. Just see what discomfort you give your neighbors, to say nothing of yourself and the poor little animals."

"Fred is nothing but a wandering menagerie-cage; and no decent person is safe anywhere near him," said Oscar, returning to his book.

"At any rate, my collections are not all the time falling through and coming to nothing, like your clubs," retorted Fred. "And see here, mamma, what a handsome and useful little fellow this is; let me read you what it says about him"; and Fred opened his book, which was always close at hand:-

"'The gold-chafer, Auratus, with its arched wing-coverings, and its strong pincers, lives upon caterpillars, larvae, and other injurious insects, and thus makes itself very useful. But instead of being protected on this account, as it deserves to be, it is everywhere persecuted and trodden upon.' So you see, mamma."

"We will not persecute your chafer, Fred; but his place is not in your pocket, nor on the study-table, my boy; take him away," said his mother; and at the same time his aunt called to Rikli through the open door:-

"Come back, dear little girl, and don't behave as if a little beetle could eat you up alive! If you go through life shrieking out over every trifle, you will some time or other be punished for it; for no one will pay any attention to your screams, even when there is something really the matter."

Rikli came back into the room just as Fred was carrying the beetle out, and, as they met in the door-way, Fred said:-

"I'll make up a poem about you. You are the musician with the sweet tones of your voice, and I am a brother-artist, a poet"

"Yes, yes! a lovely piece of poetry can be made about your pockets full of long-legged creatures, that come crawling out and stretch their horrid long legs all over the table!"

"Of course there could," said Fred stoutly, and went off to lodge his useful persecuted gold-chafer in his cabinet.

When the children were clearing away their work, before going to bed, their mother said:-

"To-morrow afternoon is a holiday, and I want you, Emma, to go and visit the little sick girl, Nora Stanhope; and it will be well for you to go every holiday and Sundays too. She will be very glad to see you."

"It will be a good thing for Emma to have a friend of her own; then perhaps she'll let other people's friends alone," said Oscar, in a tone of satisfaction.

Emma made no reply, but went quietly to bed; she had not the least idea of giving up her friendship for Fani, to please anybody.

As they were all going upstairs in a little family procession,-first Oscar, then Emma, then the aunt, and last the two younger children,-Fred turned to Rikli and said:-

"Haha, Rikli, this goes capitally!" and he sang in a loud voice to a tune of his own making:-

"Hanseli is a cry-baby,

Rikli is another;

She is so much like him,

He must be her brother."

Rikli was breaking out into an indignant cry at this unflattering comparison, but her aunt turned and took her by the hand, saying:-

"Not again to-day, my dear, nor yet to-morrow, I hope. Show Fred that he is wholly wrong in likening you to that spoilt child."

It often happened, as to-night, that the mother was prevented by other duties from going up with the children to see them safe in their beds; and then the aunt had to go the rounds alone, and the children often came near quarrelling over her, for each one thought that the others had more than their fair share of her time and attention. To-night Fred was the unlucky one, and when his turn came, at last, he said quite earnestly:-

"I wish, aunty, that you could be divided in two and then multiplied by four, so that we could have two of you apiece; and then we should all get our rights."

Aunty was all ready to give Fred his full rights now; but at that moment came Kathri with imperative need of her in the kitchen, so she had to rob him of his share to-night; but she promised to make it up by giving him a double portion before the others to-morrow night.

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