The Grandmother (Božena Němcová, 1891)/Chapter 6
THE following day, before noon, the children headed by Grandmother sallied out of the house.
"Now, remember to behave well," said the mother at the door; "do not touch anything in the castle, and do not forget, when you get there, politely to kiss the hand of the Princess!"
"I shall see that everything is done properly," replied Grandmother.
The children looked like newly opened blossoms, and Grandmother, too, had on her best: a clove colored linsey-woolsey petticoat, an apron white as snow, a damask sky-blue jacket, a cap with the dove-knot, and the garnet necklace with the dollar. Across her arm she carried her shawl. "Why do you take that shawl, it will not rain?" said her daughter.
"It seems as if I have no hands when I have nothing to carry," replied Grandmother.
They made a turn around the orchard and found themselves in the narrow path.
"Now go carefully, one behind another in the path, so as not to soil your clothes in the wet grass. You Barunka, go ahead; I will lead Adelka, for she eat out of the children's hands, and every time it laid an egg it came to Adelka, who gave it a piece of roll that she had saved from her breakfast.know how to keep in the path," said Grandmother as she took Adelka's hand, who was looking at herself with great satisfaction. In the orchard Blackie was running about,—that was Adelka's hen, the one Grandmother brought from the mountain village; it was so tame that it would
"Go to Mamma, Blackie, I left the roll for you there; I am going to see the Princess," said Adelka to the hen, but the hen ran to her as though she did not understand, and tried to pick at her dress.
"You foolish hen, don't you see my white dress? Vsh-sh-sh!" cried the child, but the hen refused to go, until Grandmother struck it with her shawl. They went a little further; when lo! a new danger threatens their white clothes. The dogs are running upon the hillside; they wade the stream, shake themselves a little, and with a bound are at Grandmother's side.
"A plague on you! who called you? away at once!" scolded Grandmother, shaking her fist at them. The dogs hearing her angry voice and seeing the upraised arm, stood still a moment wondering what it could mean. The children scolded, too, and John took up a stone to throw at them; but instead of hitting them it fell into the stream. The dogs accustomed to fetch things thrown into the water, and thinking the children meant to play with them, bounded into the water and in an instant were back again near the terrified children; they screamed and hid behind Grandmother, who herself was at her wit's end to know what to do.
"I'll run home and call Betsey," suggested Barunka.
"No; it is not well to turn back, it often brings bad luck," objected Grandmother.
Fortunately the miller happened to come along, and seeing how things stood drove the dogs away.
"Whither bound, a wedding or a festival?" he asked.
"There is no wedding, sir; we are going to the castle," replied Grandmother.
"To the castle! Well that's something? What will you do there?" wondered the miller.
"The princess invited us," explained the children, and Grandmother added how she had met that lady in the arbor.
"Well, well!" said the miller, taking a pinch of snuff;" when you return, Adelka must tell me what she saw there; and, John, if the Princess should ask you where the finch goes when she follows her nose, you won't know, will you?"
"She won't ask me," replied John, running away to escape further questioning. The miller smiled mischievously, said good bye, and turned toward the dam.
When they reached the inn, they saw Kuderna's children playing with paper mills. Celia held the baby.
"What are you doing here?" asked Barunka.
"Nothing," they replied, curiously eyeing the children's pretty clothes.
"We are going to the castle," began John in a boasting manner.
"Hm, what of it!" replied Lawrence with a toss of the head.
"And we'll see the parrot!" chimed in Willie.
"When I grow up, I shall see parrots and many other things; father says I am to travel and see the world," said the bold Lawrence; but Wenzel and Celia said, "If we could go to!"
"Never mind, I'll bring you something and tell you all about it," said John, trying to comfort them.
Finally they reached the park without any more interruption, and were joined by their father who was waiting for them.
The park belonged to the castle but was free to the public. It was near The Old Bleachery, but Grandmother seldom went there, especially when the nobility were at home. She admired the skill with which everything was arranged, the beautiful flowers, the rare trees, the fountains with their golden fishes; still she preferred to take the children to the meadow or to the woods. There, on the soft green carpet, they could roll about as the pleased, smell every flower, or pick enough of them to make bouquets or garlands. Oranges and lemons did not grow in the fields, but here and there stood a cherry tree or a wild pear tree loaded with fruit, and any one could shake down as much as he pleased. Again, in the woods there were plenty of strawberries, huckleberries, mushrooms, and hazel nuts. There were no fountains in the woods, but they used to stand at the dam and watch the water rush down, bound back, and breaking into millions of drops fall down again, turn over in the foaming kettle, and then flow down the stream. There were no golden fishes above the dam, but whenever Grandmother went by she took some crumbs from her pocket, put them into Adelka's apron, and when she threw them into the water, shoals of fishes appeared at the surface. The silvery white chubs ventured nearest the surface to chase after the crumbs; among them darted about the straight-backed perches, and a little way off glanced here and there the slender barbels with their long whiskers. One could also see the broad carps and flat-headed eelpouts.
In the meadow, Grandmother met many people, who greeted her with "Praised be Jesus Christ!" or "God grant you a good day?" Then they stopped and asked: "Whither bound, Grandma?" "How do you do?" "How are your folks?" and she always heard some news.
But at the castle she was quite bewildered. Here ran a gallooned waiter, there a chamber maid in silk; here a lord and there a lord; and each held his head higher than it grew and strutted about like the peacocks that alone had the privilege of walking about on the sward. Whenever any one did greet Grandmother, he mumbled carelessly, "Guten Morgen," or "Bon Jour," and she blushed, not knowing whether she should reply "For ever," or "God grant it?" She used to say: "In that castle, it is a perfect Babylon."
Before the castle sat two gallooned servants, one on each side of the door; the one to the left had his hands folded in his lap and was staring into space; the one to the right had his clasped over his breast and was gaping into the sky. When the party reached the door, they greeted Mr. Proshek in German, each with a different accent. The floor of the entrance hall was of white marble, and a brilliant table artistically wrought stood in the middle. Around the walls were plaster of Paris casts standing on green marble pedestals, and representing various mythological characters.
At one of the doors sat the chamberlain in a swallow-tailed coat; he was asleep. Mr. Proshek led Grandmother and the children into the hall, and the chamberlain, hearing some noise, awoke and seeing who it was, asked Mr. Proshek what business brought him to the castle.
"Her Grace, the Princess, desired that my mother should visit her to-day with the children. I beg you, Mr. Leopold, to announce them," said Mr. Proshek.
Mr. Leopold elevated his eyebrows, shrugged his shoulders, and replied, "I do not know whether the Princess will receive any company to-day; she is in her cabinet, working; however, I can announce them." He arose and very deliberately entered the door by which he had been watching. Presently he returned and with a gracious smile motioned the visitors to enter. Mr. Proshek went back and the company entered the elegant parlor. The children held their breath, while their feet slipped upon the floor, smooth as glass. Grandmother was as in a vision; she was afraid to step upon the beautiful rugs. "It is a thousand pities!" she said to herself. But what could be done? They lay everywhere and the chamberlain walked upon them. He led them through the concert hall and library to the cabinet; then he returned to his post grumbling: "Their Lordships have odd whims that one should be at the service of a common old woman and children!"
The cabinet of the Princess was decorated with green hangings inwrought with gold, curtains of the same stuff were at the door and over one window, which was as large as a door. Many pictures of various sizes hung upon the walls, but all were portraits. Opposite the window was the fireplace, made of gray marble variegated with black and green; upon the mantel stood two vases of Japanese porcelain, holding beautiful flowers whose perfume filled the whole cabinet. On both sides were shelves of costly wood, skillfully wrought. Upon these were laid out various articles, valued partly for their artistic worth and partly for their costliness; also natural objects, such as shells, corals, stones, and the like. Some of these were souvenirs from journeys, some keepsakes from friends. In the corner of the room near the window stood a Carrara marble statute of Apollo, and in the opposite corner, a writing desk. At this desk, in an arm chair covered with dark green plush, sat the Princess, dressed in a white morning-gown. As Grandmother and the children entered she laid aside her pen to welcome them.
"Praised be Jesus Christ!" said Grandmother, bowing respectfully.
"Forever!" replied the Princess, and welcomed her guests.
The children were so bewildered that they did not know what to do, until Grandmother winked at them, when they went to kiss the hand of the Princess. She kissed them on the forehead and motioning to a stool covered with plush and ornamented with golden tassels, she invited Grandmother to sit down.
"I thank your Grace, but I am not tired," was the reply. The fact was she was afraid to sit down lest the stool should break down or roll away with her. Still, when the Princess asked her again, she spread her white shawl over the stool and sat down saying: "So we should not carry away your Grace's sleep." The children stood still and trembling with awe, but their eyes wandered from one object to another; the Princess observing this asked, "Do you like it here?"
"Yes, ma'am," they replied in chorus.
"No wonder," added Grandmother. "They would find enough here to amuse them and they would need no coaxing to remain."
"And you? Would you not like it here, too?" asked the Princess.
"It's like heaven, still I should not want to live here," replied Grandmother.
"Why not?" asked the Princess greatly surprised.
"What should I do here? You have no housekeeping. I could not spread out my feathers here for stripping, nor take my spinning out; what could I do?"
"And would you not like to live without care and labor, and take some comfort in your old age?"
" Indeed, it will be soon enough that the sun shall rise and set over my head, and I shall sleep free from care. But as long as I live and God grants me health, it is fitting that I labor. An idler costs too much when he costs nothing. Besides, no one is wholly free from care, one has this cross, another that, but all do not sink beneath its weight."
Just then a small hand turned aside the curtain at the door; and there appeared the lovely face of a young girl, whose head was adorned with long blonde braids.
"May I come in?" she asked.
"Certainly, you will find pleasant company," replied the Princess.
Into the cabinet stepped Countess Hortense, the ward of the Princess, as was said. Her figure was slender and undeveloped; she wore a simple white dress, her round straw hat hung over her arm, and in her hand she held a bunch of roses. "Oh what charming little children!" she exclaimed. "Surely they are Proshek's children, who sent me those delicious strawberries yesterday?"
The Princess nodded. The Countess bent down to give each child a rose; then she gave one to Grandmother, one to the Princess, and the last she placed behind her belt.
"This bud is as fresh as yourself, gracious Countess," remarked Grandmother smelling the rose, "may God protect and keep her for you," she added turning to the Princess.
"That is my earnest prayer," replied the Princess as she kissed the forehead of her ward. "May I take the children away for a while?" asked the Countess looking both at the Princess and Grandmother. The former nodded, but Grandmother said they would be a great trouble, for those boys were like hounds and John was a regular scapegrace.
But Hortense smiled and offering both her hands asked: "Do you want to go with me?"
"Yes ma'am, yes ma'am!" cried the children in a chorus, taking hold of her hands. She bowed both to the Princess and her company and disappeared. The Princess then took a silver bell and rang it; in an instant the chamberlain appeared at the door. The Princess ordered him to see that breakfast was served in the small dining room, and gave him a package of papers to care for. He bowed and left the room.
While the Princess was speaking with the chamberlain, Grandmother was looking at the portraits upon the walls of the cabinet.
"O dear Lord!" she exclaimed when Leopold was gone, "what strange costumes and faces! This lady is dressed just as the late Mrs. Halashkov used to be dressed,—may her soul rest in peace! She used to wear high heeled shoes, a high bonnet, her petticoats puffed out, and her waist laced so tight that she looked as if she had been cut in two by a whip lash. Her husband was a city alderman in Dobruska, and when we went there on a pilgrimage, we saw her at church. Our boys called her a poppy doll, because in those petticoats and that powdered head she looked like a poppy blossom with the petals turned backwards. They said it was a French style of dress."
"That lady is my grandmother," said the Princess.
"Indeed? She is a fine lady," replied Grandmother.
"The picture to the right is my grandfather, and the left one is my father," continued the Princess.
"Very nice people! Your Grace does not deny her father; and may I ask, where is your mother?"
"There is my mother and sister," said the Princess pointing to two portraits above her writing desk.
"A lovely lady, it gives one pleasure to look at her; but your sister does not resemble either her father or her mother; it is sometimes the case that a child takes after some distant relative. The face of this young man seems familiar to me; I cannot recollect where I saw it."
"That is the Russian Emperor, Alexander, you did not know him."
Indeed I knew him! why, I stood about twenty steps from him. He was a handsome man, here he is somewhat younger, but still I recognized him. He and the Emperor Joseph were excellent men."
The Princess motioned to the opposite wall, where hung a picture,—a life size figure of a man.
"The Emperor Joseph!" exclaimed Grandmother clasping her hands. "A perfect likeness! How you have them all together! I did not dream that I should see the Emperor Joseph to-day. God grant his soul eternal glory; he was a good man, especially to the poor. This dollar he gave me with his own hand," said Grandmother as she drew the silver dollar from her bosom.
The Princess was pleased with Grandmother's simple-heartedness and timely remarks; so she asked her to relate how the Emperor came to give her the dollar. Grandmother needed no coaxing and at once began to tell the story of her dollar. The Princess laughed heartily. When Grandmother took another look about the cabinet, she espied the portrait of King Frederic.
"Why, this is the King of Prussia!" she exclaimed. "I knew that ruler well, too. My late husband George served in the Prussian army, and I spent fifteen years in Silesia. Once he had George called out of the ranks to him, and made him presents. He liked tall men, and my George was the tallest man in the regiment and well grown, like a maiden. Little did I think that I should look down into his grave! a man like a rock, and he is gone long ago and I am still here." She sighed and wiped the tears from her wrinkled cheeks.
"Did your husband fall in battle?" asked the Princess.
"Not exactly, but he died from the effects of a wound received in battle. When that rebellion broke out in Poland, and the Prussian King with the Russians invaded the country, our regiment was with them. I followed the army with my children; we had two then, the third was born in the field. That is Johanna, who is now in Vienna; and I think that she is so courageous a girl, because from her birth she had to become accustomed to all sorts of hardships like a soldier. That was an unfortunate battle. After the first skirmish my husband was brought to me into the tent. A cannon ball had taken off his leg. They cut it off. I took all the care of him that was possible. As soon as he was a little better, he was sent back to Neisse. I was rejoiced. I hoped that when he got well they would not want him as a cripple, and that we could return to Bohemia. But my hopes were disappointed. He began to fail, and nothing could be done. I knew that he must die. What little money I had I gave for medicines and yet he was not helped. It seemed to me that I must lose my reason or that my heart must break from grief. But a person can endure much. I was left with three orphans, not a penny of money, and but little clothing. In that same regiment there was a certain Lehotsky, who was my husband's best friend. He took me up, and when I told him I could weave blankets, he got me a loom and set me up in the trade. May God reward him! What I had learned in my youth as a pastime now did me good service. My work sold well, so that I soon paid off my debt to Lehotsky, and supported myself and the children comfortably. Although there were very good people in that town, I was very lonesome, and from the time my husband died I felt as forsaken as a pear tree in a grain field. I often thought I should be better off at home, and one day I broached the subject to Lehotsky. He discouraged the thought and assured me that I should certainly get a pension and that the King would care for my children. I was thankful, but finally decided to return home. The German language was a great obstacle to me. While we were at Glatz, I was better off, for there Bohemian was spoken more than German; but at Neisse, it was just the opposite, and I could not learn that language. Hardly had we made ourselves comfortable when the flood came. Water is a fearful element when it becomes angry; one can not escape it even on horseback.
"It came so suddenly that people barely escaped with their lives. I quickly picked up what I could, tied the bundle upon my back, took the youngest child in my arms, held the elder two by the hands, and so we fled, wading to our ankles in the water. Lehotsky came to our assistance, led us to the higher town, where good people received us kindly and gave us shelter.
"The report soon spread through the town that I had lost almost everything, and these good people at once came to my aid. The commander of the regiment sent for me, and told me that I should get several dollars a year and steady work; that the boy would be taken into a military school, and I could place the girls in the Royal Institute for Women. This did not comfort me at all, and I begged them, if they wished to show me some kindness, to give me a little money so that I could return to Bohemia, I said I would not part with my children, that I should bring them up in my faith and language. This they would by no means permit, and told me that if I did not remain there, I should get nothing. 'If nothing, then nothing,' thought I, 'God will not leave us to perish from hunger,' and so I thanked the King for all, and left."
"I think your children would have been well provided for," observed the Princess.
"Very likely, your Grace; but they would have become estranged. Who would have taught them to love their home and their mother tongue? Nobody. They would have learned a strange language, strange customs, and finally would have forgotten their own kin. How could I then justify myself before God? No, no, who is born of Bohemian blood, let him learn to speak the Bohemian tongue! I asked for permission to leave, picked up the little clothing I had left, took my children and bade farewell to the town where I had seen so many bitter, as well as happy days. The housekeeper loaded my children with as much food as they could carry and gave me several dollars for the journey. May God repay their children what good those people did to me! Poor Lehotsky went with us about six miles, carrying Johanna. He was sorry we were going away, for our house was always like a home to him. At parting we both wept. While he remained at Neisse, he went regularly to George's grave to pray a Pater-noster; they loved each other as brothers. He lost his life in the French war. God grant his soul eternal rest!"
"And how did you get to Bohemia with those children?" asked the Princess. "We suffered much on the journey, gracious lady. Not knowing the way, we wasted much time wandering about to no purpose. Our feet were covered with bloody blisters, and often we cried from hunger, weariness and pain, when we could find no habitation. We got safe to Kladran Hills, and there I felt quite at home. I came from Olesnic near the borders of Silesia, but I suppose your Grace doesn't know where that is. When I was near home, another burden began to weigh upon my heart. I wondered whether my parents were still living, and how they would receive me. When I left home they had given me a good outfit, and now I was returning with empty hands and bringing them three orphans. 'What will they say to me?' That question kept sounding in my ears. I feared, too, that some sad change might have taken place in the two years during which I had not heard from them."
"And did you never write to them, at least your husband, if not you?" wondered the Princess.
"The custom of sending letters is not common among us. We think of each other, pray for each other, and as we have opportunity, we send word by some friend how each one is doing. A person doesn't know where such a letter may go, and into whose hands it may fall. My father used to write letters to soldiers who went from our village and were somewhere far beyond the boundaries, so that their parents might find out whether they were alive or not, or when they wanted to send them a little money. But when they returned, they said they never got anything, and so it is, your Grace; when a letter comes from a person of the lower classes, it is very apt to remain here or there."
"You are mistaken, my good woman," quickly said the Princess, "every letter, let it come from whom it wil must come into the hands of the person to whom it is addressed. No one can keep it or open it, there is a severe penalty for this."
"It is a proper thing, and I gladly believe it; but after all, we prefer to confide in some good friend. Upon such a bit of paper one cannot put everything, and the reader would like to know this and that, and there is nobody there to ask; but when one of those good pilgrims or peddlers comes along, he tells everything word for word. I, too, should have heard more about my folks, but on account of those disturbances, there was very little travel.
"It was dark when we arrived in the village. It was summer and I knew that at that hour they would be at supper. We left the road and went through the orchard so as not to be observed. The dogs came out from our house and barked at us; I called them but they only barked the louder. The tears filled my eyes, my heart felt heavy,—for the moment I forgot that it was fifteen years since I had left home and that they were not the same dogs that we had then. In the orchard, I noticed many young trees, the fence was repaired, the barn had a new roof, but the pear tree under which George and I used to sit, had been touched by God's messenger (lightning) and its top was gone. At the cottage near by there was no change; it had been taken by father from the late Widow Novotny for an annuity. She was the woman that made those woolen blankets, and my husband was her son.
"There was a little garden near the cottage, for she always liked to have a bed of parsley, onions, some little corner of sweet balsams, sage, and such herbs as are needed in the household. George made her a fence of wicker work around the garden. That same fence was there still, but the ground had been neglected and allowed to run to grass; only a few onions were still seen. An old dog, half-blind, crawled out of his kennel. 'Old fellow, do you know me?' I said to him, and the brute began to rub himself about my feet. To be recognized and welcomed by this dumb animal touched me so that I burst into tears.
"The children, poor things! looked at me wondering why I wept. I had not told them that we were going to their grandmother's; for I thought that if my parents should be displeased with me, the children must not know it. Caspar, the oldest, asked: 'Why do you cry, mother? shan't we get a night's lodging here? Sit down and rest. We can wait; then I shall carry the bundle for you. We are not hungry.' Both Johanna and Theresa agreed with him, but I knew they were hungry, for we had gone several hours on our journey without coming upon any habitation.
"'No, my children, that is not why I am weeping,' I replied. 'We have reached our journey's end; here in this house your father was born, your mother in that one yonder. This is the home of your grandparents. Let us thank God for bringing us home safe, and pray that we may receive a fatherly welcome.' The prayer finished, we went to the cottage, for I remembered that my parents lived there, having given the homestead to my brother for an annuity. Upon the outside of the door was still pasted the picture that George had brought his mother from the Vamberitz shrine,—the Virgin with the fourteen helpers. A burden fell from my heart as soon as I saw it. I thought: 'They blessed me when I left, and welcome me as I return;' and much comforted I entered the house with confidence.
"Father, mother, and old Betsey sat at the table eating soup out of one dish,—it was milk soup thickened with flour and egg. I remember it as if it were yesterday. 'Praised be Jesus Christ!' I said. 'For ever' was the reply. 'May I beg for a night's lodging for myself and these children? We come from far, we are tired and hungry,' I said, my voice trembling with emotion. They did not recognize me; it was somewhat dark in the roomand give the children. Then we will take you to sleep up in the garret. Where do you come from?''Lay down your baggage, and sit down by the table!' said father and laid aside his spoon. 'Betsey,' said mother, 'go cook some more soup. In the meantime, sit down, mother, take some bread
"'Clear from Silesia, from Niesse,' I replied. 'Indeed! That's where our Madaline is,' cried father. 'I beg you, my good woman, didn't you hear anything of her?' asked mother approaching me closely. 'Madaline Novotny, her husband is a soldier. She is our daughter, and we haven't heard for two years what she is doing and how she is. I've had bad dreams lately; not long ago I dreamed that I lost a tooth; so I have that girl and her children on my mind constantly, and I wonder whether something has not happened to George, since they have those battles all the time. God only knows why those men cannot let each other alone!'
"I wept, but the children hearing their grandmother speaking thus, pulled at my skirt and asked: 'Mamma, are these our grandmother and grandfather?' As soon as they said this mother recognized me and fell upon my neck, and father took the children into his arms; and then we told each other every thing that had happened. Betsey ran to fetch brother and sister, sister-in-law and brother-in-law, and before long the whole village was together, and not only my relatives and old friends, but everybody else welcomed me as though I had been a sister to them all, 'You did well to return home with those children,' said father; 'true, the earth is the Lord's, but one's own country is always dearest, as ours is to us, and thus it should be. As long as God gives us bread, neither you nor your children shall suffer, even if you cannot work. That which befell you is indeed a heavy blow, but lay it aside! Think: "whom God loveth he chastiseth."'
"Thus I was again among them, and was as their own. My brother offered to let me have a room in his house, but I preferred to remain with my parents in the cottage where my husband had lived. The children soon were entirely at home, and my parents loved them dearly. I sent them regularly to school. When I was young, girls did not learn to write; it was thought enough if they could read a little, and that only the town girls. And yet it is a great pity and a sin when a person has the gift of the Holy Ghost and does not improve it. When, however, there is no opportunity, what is one to do? My husband was a man who knew the world, he knew how to write, too; in short, he was fit for a wagon or a carriage. And that is well; every-body might be so!
"I wove blankets as before and earned many a handsome groschen. Those were hard times—war, disease, and famine everywhere. A bushel of rye cost a hundred guilders in bank notes! that is something to say. But God loved us, and so in one way and another we managed to pull through. The distress was so great that people went about with money in their hands unable to buymother was sent to fill the bag. Money, however, he would not take, no, indeed! 'Why, we are neighbors, and if we do not help each other, who will help us? When God blesses your harvest, return the grain and we shall be even.' Thus it was that father had thousands of 'God repay you's!' And mother was the same. Why, she would have gone to the cross roads to look for a beggar, if none happened to come along. And why should we not help people! We had enough to eat, enough to wear; why should we not share the remainder with others? This is no merit, but merely a Christian duty. But when a person denies himself to help others, that is a real virtue. Indeed, it came to that pass that we ate only once a day, that others might have something, too. And we stood it until the sun shone again. Peace returned to the land, and times grew better and better.My father was a man whose like is seldom found; he helped every-body where and how he could. When the neighbors were driven to the last extremity, they usually turned to him. Sometimes the poorer peasants came to him saying: 'Let us have a bushel of rye; we haven't a crust of bread in the house!' He would say: 'As long as I have, I give; when I have no more, others will do it,' and at once
"When Casper finished his schooling he wanted to learn weaving, and I did not object. A trade is a master. When his apprenticeship was finished, he went into the world. My husband used to say that a tradesman rolled out on the oven wasn't worth a kreutzer.
"After several years he returned, settled at Dobrusitz, and is doing well. The girls I trained carefully to do housework. About this time, my cousin from Vienna came into the village; she took a liking to Theresa and said she would take her to Vienna and care for her. It was very hard for me to part from her, but I thought it would not be right for me to stand in the way of her good fortune. Dorothy is a good woman; they are well-to-do and have no children. She cared for Theresa as for her own child, and when she married gave her a good outfit. At first I was somewhat vexed that she chose a German, but now I do not mind it. John is a good and worthy man, and we manage to understand each other. And the children—they are mine. Johanna went to Dorothy in Theresa's place, and she, too, is well pleased with her home. This new generation is quite different from the last. I never wanted to go away from home, especially among strangers.
"After a few years my parents died only six weeks apart. They left the world quietly as a candle is blown out. God did not leave them to suffer, and they did not mourn for each other long; they had lived together for sixty years. Soft they made their bed, and softly they rest. God grant them eternal glory!"
"Were you not lonesome when all your children left you?" asked the Princess.
"Well, your Grace, blood is not water. At times I shed many tears, but I would not sully the children's happiness by complaining. Besides, I was not alone. Children continue to be born, and one can always find something to occupy one's mind. When I saw the neighbor's children growing up from childhood to maturity, it seemed as if they were my own. If we but have hearts that feel for others, we shall find that others love us, too. My children urged me to go to Vienna. I knew I should find good people there and that I would be well provided for; but it is a great distance, and travel is hard for one so old. Then suppose God should think of me; after all, I want my bones to rest among my old friends and relatives. But, your Grace, pardon my simplicity; I am talking as if I were at a spinning bee," said Grandmother rising from her seat.
"Not at all, my dear woman, your story is very interesting to me, and you cannot think how grateful I am to you," said the Princess, laying her hand on Grandmother's shoulder. "Now come with me to breakfast. By this time, I suppose the children are hungry." So saying she led Grandmother out of the cabinet into the dining room, where coffee, chocolate, and various delicacies were awaiting them. The chamberlain stood there waiting to receive orders; the Princess sent him to bring the Countess and the children.
In a few moments they came rushing in, exclaiming: "O Grandma! see what the Countess Hortense gave us!" Each tried to be the first to show the pretty gift he had received.
"How beautiful! In all my life I never saw anything like it; I hope you did not forget to thank her?"
The children nodded.
I wonder what Manchinka will say when she sees this? and Cilka. and Vaclav?" said Grandmother.
"Who are Manchinka and Cilka, and Vaclav?" asked the Princess.
"I can tell you that, dear Princess; the children told me," said the Countess. “Manchinka is the miller's daughter, and Cilka and Vaclav are the children of a certain organ grinder, and he has four besides. Barunka says they eat cats, squirrels, and crows, and all the people shun them."
"Why, because they are poor, or because they eat cats and squirrels?" asked the Princess.
"On account of the latter," replied Grandmother.
"Well squirrel is not bad food, I have tasted it myself," said the Princess.
"But, your Grace, there is a great difference between eating something as a delicacy and eating it out of necessity. The organ grinder himself is provided with a good stomach, the children as a matter of course need a great deal, and all must come out of that music. It is but natural,—they have little for the outside, little for the inside, and the house is as bare as the palm of the hand."
While this conversation was going on, the Princess took her seat at the table, Hortense placed the children on each side of herself, and Grandmother was obliged to sit down, too. The Countess wanted to pour her out some coffee or chocolate, but she said she did not drink coffee nor that other beverage.
"Then what do you have for breakfast? asked the Princess.
"From my childhood, I have been accustomed to eat soup, mostly sour; in the mountains we like that the best. Sour soup and potatoes for breakfast, potatoes and sour soup for dinner, supper the same; Sundays we usually had, in addition to the soup and potatoes, a slice of oaten bread. Thıs is the regular fare of people living in the Riesengebirge, and they are thankful when they have enough of it; for in hard times they are glad to get a little bran. Further in the interior, people have peas, whiter flour, cabbage, and sometimes a little meat; they live well! But the poor must not accustom themselves to dainties, else they would soon be at the end of their means. Besides, such things are not nourishing."
"There you are mistaken. Such victuals are very nourishing, and if those people could have a little meat each day and some good drink, they would gain more strength than all those other things put together could give them," replied the Princess.
"Well, well, one learns something new every day. I always imagined that the wealthy classes were so thin and pale because they lived on delicacies that were not nourishing."
The Princess smiled, but said nothing. She handed Grandmother a small glass of sweet wine saying as she did so: "Drink, good woman, drink, this will warm you and do you good."
Grandmother raised the glass, saying: "To your Grace's health!" and drank a little; she also took some pastry so her hostess should not be offended.
"What is that the Princess is eating out of those shells?" asked John in a whisper of Hortense.
They are little creatures from the sea and are called oysters," was the reply. "I don't think Cilka would eat them," added John.
"Various things are good for food, and there are various tastes," explained the Countess. While they were thus talking, Barunka slipped something into Grandmother's pocket, whispering: "Hide it for me, Grandma; it's money. Miss Hortense gave it to me for Kuderna's children. I might lose it, you see."
The Princess overheard what Barunka said and her eye rested upon the Countess with inexpressible pleasure. Grandmother, too, was so pleased that she could not remain silent; so turning to the young lady, she said: "May God bless you, dear Countess!" Hortense blushed, and turning shook her finger at Barunka, whose face in turn became crimson.
"Won't they be delighted! Now they can clothe themselves."
"We will add something to it, so they can help themselves in other things, too," added the Princess.
"It would be an act of charity, if you could help these people, but not with alms," said Grandmother.
" As long as Kuderna behaves well, he should have steady work; I think that would be all the time, for he is both honest and willing. God reward you for all. But alms, your Grace, help such people only for a time. They buy various things, often what is unnecessary; and when those are eaten and worn out, they are as badly off as ever and dare not come to ask for more. But if Kuderna had some steady employment, he would be helped, and your Grace would be profited, if she gained a good laborer and a faithful servant. Besides, it would be doing an act of charity."
"You are right; but what employment could I give him,--a musician?"
"O your Grace, that is not difficult. He would be delighted to be a watchman either of your fields or forests. Besides, he could carry his organ with him, as he usually does, to cheer himself up. Oh, they are a merry crew!" added Grandmother.
"I shall see what can be done for him," said the Princess.
"O my dear, good Princess!" exclaimed Hortense, as she arose to kiss the hand of the benefactress.
"Only the good are accompanied by angels," said Grandmother glancing at the lady and her ward.
The Princess was silent a moment, then said deeply moved: "I shall never cease to thank God for giving her to me." Then turning to Grandmother she said: "I should be pleased to have a friend who would always tell me the truth in a direct and sincere manner."
"O your Grace, should you desire it, such a friend can readily be found; but it is not easy to keep him."
"You think I would not value him?"
"Why should I think so? but that is the way it usually is. Sometimes such frank conversation is agreeable and then again it is not; and then that is the end of friendship."
"You are right. But from this day you have the privilege of saying to me, whatever you wish; and should you have a petition, rest assured I shall grant it, if only it be in my power." Saying this the Princess rose from the table; the rest did the same. Grandmother bent down to kiss the hand of her hostess, but the latter would not allow it and kissed Grandmother's cheek instead. The children picked up their gifts, and with much reluctance prepared to go home.
"Come to see us, too, Miss Hortense," said Grandmother as she took Adelka from her arms.
"Yes, come," echoed the children. "We will gather strawberries for you."
"I thank your Grace for all,—God be with you," said Grandmother taking her leave.
"Depart with God!" said the Princess bowing. The Countess accompanied them to the door.
The chamberlain, coming to clear the table, elevated his eyebrows as if he would say: "A strange whim! Such a lady amuse herself with an old granny!"
The Princess, however, stood by the window watching the departing ones as long as the children's white frocks and Grandmother's dove-knot could be seen through the green foilage. Returning to her cabinet she whispered: "Happy woman!"
- It is a common belief that if a person does not sit down when coming into a strange house, its inmates will not sleep well.
- In Bohemia, one often sees a solitary pear tree in the field; so that the phrase "as lonely as a pear tree in a field" has become a common saying.
- Who never goes away from home.