“We must go to school,” said Amrei, and she turned quickly with her brother through the garden-path back into the village. As they passed Farmer Rodel’s barn, Damie said:
“They’ve threshed a great deal at our guardian’s today.” And he pointed to the bands of threshed sheaves that hung over the half-door of the barn, as evidence of accomplished work. Amrei nodded silently.
THE DISTANT SOUL
Farmer Rodel, whose house with its red beams and its pious text in a large heart over the door, was not far from Josenhans’s had let himself be appointed guardian of the orphan children by the Village Council. He made the less objection for the reason that Josenhans had, in former days, served as second-man on his farm. His guardianship, however, was practically restricted to his taking care of the father’s unsold clothes, and to his occasionally asking one of the children, as he passed by: “Are you good?”—whereupon he would march off without even waiting for an answer. Nevertheless a strange feeling of pride came over the children when they heard that the rich farmer was their guardian, and they looked upon themselves as very fortunate people, almost aristocratic. They often stood near the large house and looked up at it expectantly, as if they were waiting for something and knew not what; and often, too, they sat by the plows and harrows near the barn and read the biblical text on the house over and over again. The house seemed to speak to them, if no one else did.
It was the Sunday before All Souls’ Day, and the children were again playing before the locked house of their parents,—they seemed to love the spot,—when Farmer Landfried’s wife came down the road from Hochdorf, with a large red umbrella under her arm, and a hymn-book in her hand. She was paying a final visit to her native place; for the day before the hired-man had already carried her household furniture out of the village in a four-horse wagon, and early the next morning she was to move with her husband and her three children to the farm they had just bought in distant Allgau. From way up by the mill Dame Landfried was already nodding to the children—for to meet children on first going out is, they say, a good sign—but the children could not see her nodding, nor could they see her sorrowful features. At last, when she drew near to them, she said:
“God greet ye, children! What are you doing here so early? To whom do you belong?”
“To Josenhans—there!” answered Amrei, pointing to the house.
“Oh, you poor children!” cried the woman, clasping her hands. “I should have known you, my girl, for your mother, when she went to school with me, looked just as you do—we were good companions; and your father served my cousin, Farmer Rodel. I know all about you. But tell me, Amrei, why have you no shoes on? You might take cold in such weather as this! Tell Marianne that Dame Landfried of Hochdorf told you to say, it is not right of her to let you run about like this! But no—you needn’t say anything—I will speak to her myself. But, Amrei, you are a big girl now, and must be sensible and look out for yourself. Just think—what would your mother say, if she knew that you were running about barefoot at this season of the year?”