“Don’t look! There, now it’s done!” cried Bertha.
It was two nights before Christmas. Bertha was in the big living-room with her mother and older sister. Each sat as close as possible to the candle-light, and was busily working on something in her lap.
But, strange to say, they did not face each other. They were sitting back to back.
“What an unsociable way to work,” we think. “Is that the way Germans spend the evenings together?”
No, indeed. But Christmas was near at hand, and the air was brimful of secrets.
Bertha would not let her mother discover what she was working for her, for all the world. And the little girl’s mother was preparing surprises for each of the children. All together, the greatest fun of the year was getting ready for Christmas.
“Mother, you will make some of those lovely cakes this year, won’t you?” asked Bertha’s sister Gretchen.
“Certainly, my child. It would not be Christmas without them. Early to-morrow morning, you and Bertha must shell and chop the nuts. I will use the freshest eggs and will beat the dough as long as my arms will let me.”
“Did you always know how to make those cakes, mamma?” asked Bertha.
“My good mother taught me when I was about your age, my dear. You may watch me to-morrow, and perhaps you will learn how to make them. It is never too early to begin to learn to cook.”
“When the city girls get through school, they go away from home and study housekeeping, don’t they?” asked Gretchen.
“Yes, and many girls who don’t live in cities. But I hardly think you will ever be sent away. We are busy people here in our little village, and you will have to be contented with learning what your mother can teach you.”
“I shall be satisfied with that, I know. But listen! I can hear father and Hans coming.”
“Then put up your work, children, and set the supper-table.”
The girls jumped up and hurriedly put the presents away. It did not take long to set the supper-table, for the meals in this little home were very simple, and supper was the simplest of all. A large plate of black bread and a pitcher of sour milk were brought by the mother, and the family gathered around the table.
The bread wasn’t really black, of course. It was dark brown and very coarse. It was made of rye meal. Bertha and Gretchen had never seen any white bread in their lives, for they had never yet been far away from their own little village. Neither had their brother Hans.
They were happy, healthy children. They all had blue eyes, rosy cheeks, and fair hair, like their father and mother.
“You don’t know what I’ve got for you, Hans,” said Bertha, laughing and showing a sweet little dimple in her chin.
Hans bent down and kissed her. He never could resist that dimple, and Bertha was his favourite sister.